Managers at Winn-Dixie said that a recent court order suspending the store's beer and wine license already has proved costly.
The Fury's Ferry Road supermarket was ordered to surrender its beer and wine license for 30 days beginning at midnight Friday. Managers replaced beer with soft drinks and masked the store's wine selection with an array of paper products, but the first day under the suspension, business was down almost 10 percent.
"It hurt us on Saturday, and that was just the first day," said Dennis May, Winn-Dixie store manager.
The store was one of 14 Columbia County businesses cited June 30 for selling alcohol to a minor during the third sheriff's sting operation this year. For Winn-Dixie, Food Lion on Evans-to-Locks Road, and Bi-Lo and Kroger stores on Columbia Road, it was the second citation.
Columbia County Magistrate J. Wade Padgett had threatened in the past to suspend the alcohol licenses of repeat offenders for 60 days, but chose a milder penalty because he said Winn-Dixie was the only repeat offender to plead guilty and take responsibility for the citations.
Representatives for the other stores with repeat citations declined to enter a plea at Wednesday's hearing. Judge Padgett granted a delay in hearing the cases.
"Winn-Dixie is the only store who has called us asking for help to prevent this from happening again," said Columbia County sheriff's Capt. Steve Morris. "We've offered suggestions to their own security people, working with them to develop strategies to determine if clerks are complying with the law, like conducting their own random sting operations similar to the ones that we do."
While the clerks who sold the alcohol at each of the stores were fined $500 and instructed to write essays on the importance of paying attention to details, Mr. May said a harsher penalty for clerks would send a stronger message.
"Everyone knows the law," Mr. May said. "In order for this kind of thing to stop, I believe the clerks should be punished more severely. Seeing someone being led out in handcuffs makes an everlasting impression."
Since receiving its second citation, Winn-Dixie is requiring managers to ring up all beer and wine sales, Mr. May said.
"We are at fault, and I am embarrassed by what has happened, but all we can do is make sure that it doesn't happen again," he said.
Scotty Fletcher can be reached at 868-1222, Ext. 111, or firstname.lastname@example.org.