EV1 to be fined for underage liquor sales, Evanston mayor says

Joseph Diebold

Evanston 1st Liquors will be fined $2,000 for selling alcohol to minors, Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl said Thursday.

After a tense meeting of Evanston’s Liquor Control Review Board on Thursday, Tisdahl announced she will fine EV1, 1019 Davis St., for an increase this year in violations regarding minors illegally purchasing alcohol from the store.

Tisdahl, who also serves as the city’s liquor control commissioner, expressed concerns about underage liquor purchases at EV1. She said there have already been 12 recorded violations on the premises in 2012, up from just one each in 2009 and 2010, when the store had a different owner.

Tisdahl and city attorney Grant Farrar were pointed in their criticisms of EV1 owner Amit Amin for not doing more to stem underage liquor purchases since he took over ownership of EV1 last August. At one point in the meeting, Amin asked what more he could be doing.

“You’re the storeowner,” Tisdahl replied. “I would hope that you know what to do in order to stop selling to people who are under 21.”

Amin and his attorney, Tim Fitzgerald, expressed their frustration at the city’s allegations that EV1 hasn’t done enough to curb alcohol purchases by minors.

“What else can we do to keep (minors) from buying liquor if they have got a false identification and our system doesn’t catch it?” Fitzgerald asked in response.

Amin said he has two daughters and is conscious of the consequences of underage drinking.

“I’m trying to take all my precautions to make sure I have a successful business in the city of Evanston,” he said. “I would never knowingly sell liquor to a minor.”

Tisdahl and Farrar focused on a specific violation in which a 16-year-old Winnetka resident was allegedly allowed to purchase alcohol from EV1 without even presenting identification.

Sgt. Tracy Williams testified at the hearing that he approached the customer outside EV1 because he appeared to be under 21. Williams said he searched the boy and found no identification. When Williams asked the employee who sold the alcohol why he did not ask for identification, he was allegedly told the boy was a “regular customer.”

Tisdahl urged Amin not to allow EV1 to develop a reputation as a place where minors can easily acquire alcohol.

“The system I would like to see is one where 16-year-old kids from Winnetka don’t know that the best place to buy alcohol is clearly your store,” she said. “I would very much like to have you start looking at people who you are selling to and making your own decisions as well as relying on the machine.”

The other board members present expressed more sympathy for the EV1 owner. Dick Peach said Amin deserves credit for installing new identification scanners in February.

“It does sound like he’s really making an effort to do something here,” Peach said.

Board member Patrick Hughes pointed out the increased number of violations could be due to ramped-up police surveillance outside EV1. The Daily reported in February that surveillance increased after a complaint from Ald. Judy Fiske (1st), who owns pet store Fit and Frisky!, 1017 Davis St., which is directly adjacent to EV1. In February, she said she had received complaints from residents about underage purchases.

The two sides also disagreed over the level of police surveillance. Amin said he sometimes sees three to four police cars stationed outside his store, although Williams said in most instances he is outside EV1 alone or with a single partner. Tisdahl was critical of Amin’s account.

“I have complete faith in our officer, and he says he’s been there and (he has) done most of the arrests,” she said. “I find your statements of three or four squad cars not believable.”

Fitzgerald told The Daily after the hearing that he was never concerned that Tisdahl would revoke EV1’s liquor license, as she did in January with The Keg of Evanston over charges that it served alcohol to minors.

“It can’t be an option,” he said. “That would be harsh and unusual punishment. We haven’t been convicted of anything. We’re not liable for anything. The individuals in that report were ticketed and they pleaded liable, but in each instance they said they gave a false ID. How can the licensee be responsible for that?”

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