Alachua County held a hearing Thursday morning to address the 10 businesses that code enforcers found selling tobacco to customers under 21.
All 10 businesses were accused of violating Alachua County’s code regarding minimum legal sales age for tobacco products and age verification. The county raised the legal tobacco age from 18 to 21 in 2019 but only a year ago began to enforce the restriction.
This is not the first time businesses headed to court for tobacco sale violations. In October, 13 businesses answered to charges in court. Courtney Wilson of the County Attorney’s Office presided over Thursday’s hearings.
India Bazaar, 3550 SW 34th St., Gainesville
Osiris Sanchez inspected India Bazaar Nov. 18. He stood in line behind underage purchaser Julia Alexander, who purchased tobacco chew with her ID despite being 19.
The business had a previous violation from December that was adjudicated, county code enforcement officer Diana Osborn said. India Bazaar’s November violation counted as its first due to a backlog in code enforcement cases.
Owner Vaishal Patel said he introduced a scanner to flag purchases with age restrictions. At the time of the violation, the software was not functioning.
Jig’s United, 5192 SW 34th St., Gainesville
Sanchez inspected Jig’s United on Nov. 18. He waited by the store’s whiskey wall as Alexander purchased tobacco products. The clerk did not ask to see her ID.
Like India Bazaar, the business had another violation in December that was adjudicated due to the backload, Osborn said.
Owner Jignesh Patel said he has signs informing customers of the age and ID restrictions in the store. A warning pops up on the register when a clerk sells a product with restriction. However, Patel said he recently started using a phone application with which employees can scan IDs to verify they are real.
Patel presented text messages that showed he reminded his staff to ask for IDs if the customer is visibly younger than 35. An employee quit because she sold to someone who was underage, he said.
Circle K, 5708 NW 34th Blvd., Gainesville
Sanchez on Dec. 9 inspected Circle K. He stood behind Alexander, who purchased tobacco products without showing her ID. Several Circle K stores around the county have violated the age restrictions before, Osborn said.
Circle K, 14300 W Newberry Road, Newberry
Sanchez inspected Circle K Dec. 15. A clerk checked Alexander’s ID at this location but still sold her products.
Under standard policy, a representative told an employee of four years she would be fired if she sold tobacco products to a minor again. However, Ramona Petry said only five Circle K stores of almost 70 in the county violated the restrictions.
Family Dollar, 5007 NW 34th St., Gainesville
An attorney hired by Family Dollar said the business accepted responsibility and fired the employee who sold the products. All currently employees are being retrained, he added. Family Dollar had a previous case that was adjudicated.
Kwik Stop, 4919 NW 34th Blvd., Gainesville
Sanchez on Dec. 9 inspected Kwik Stop. The employee did not ask to see Alexander’s ID. This was the business’ first offense, county code enforcement officer Christopher Barnes said.
The business has a new register with reminders to ask for IDs, said Sunny Patel, the owner’s son. The employee who sold the tobacco products was told they would be fired if it happened again.
Chevron, 3328 W University Ave., Gainesville
Owner Cadmus McLarty accepted responsibility and suspended the employee who sold the products. The age bypass button was removed from registers, McLarty said, and employees must now scan ID or input the customer’s date of birth. All employees will be re-trained to avoid future illegal sales.
U & B Liquor, 14128 W Newberry Road, Newberry
Owner Nilam Patel accepted responsibility and said the employee was fired. The store currently has signs that inform customers of the age restrictions. Patel added that she will buy the software that requires scanning or inputting ID information rather than having employees manually check IDs.
The Liquor Shoppe at Jonesville, 14451 W Newberry Road, Newberry
Owner Jamie McMahon accepted responsibility but said she could not find out which employee sold the products. All employees will be retrained because, McMahon said, tobacco sales need to be taken as seriously as alcohol sales.
Walmart Supercenter, 5700 NW 23rd St., Gainesville
Sanchez on Dec. 9 inspected the Walmart Supercenter and stood in line 6 feet behind Alexander. Alexander said she vividly remembers the encounter and that the employee, an older man, looked at her ID and said she could purchase the products because she was older than 18.
No Walmart representative attended the hearing Thursday.
There will be another hearing July 1.