Carding senior citizens

Jim Leitzel at Vice Squad notes some grocery stores in Wisconsin are carding any and all customers attempting to purchase alcohol or tobacco - including senior citizens. Jim predicts, "that they will stop caring about carding those senior citizens soon, if the clerks haven't informally repudiated the policy already."

Maybe - assuming that the clerks can actually tell who should and should not be carded, and that store management has not threatened to fire employees who don't card everyone.

I worked in a number of convenience stores and grocery stores that were licensed to sell cigarettes, beer and wine a little over 20 years ago. I don't know what the current laws are today, but I doubt they are any better than they were back then.

Sales clerks have ample reason to card everyone (especially if they are not good at judging age), because the penalties for being wrong are so severe. When I worked in those stores, if someone was caught selling beer or wine to a minor (selling cigarettes to minors was rarely enforced), a number of bad things happened:

  • The clerk was arrested and taken to jail.
  • The clerk was hit with a fine of $1,500.
  • The store was hit as well with a fine of $1,500.
  • The clerk was guaranteed to not have a job when released from jail (they were automatically fired per store policy).

Most of the stores I worked at were in Texas, and in Texas, the Texas Alcohol Control Board (TACB) would routinely conduct sting operations like Peter described. We could count on the TACB sending in an under-age buyer three or four times a year.

Besides the TACB, clerks were also watched by store management and/or corporate security. If there were suspicions about under-age sale of alcohol to minors (or anything else), they would not think twice about parking in the parking lot or across the street and watching the clerk through binoculars. Clerks found to be violating store policy on carding buyers could count on being written up and possibly fired.

In a follow-up post, Pete Guither (Drug WarRant) points out why a store would card all of its customers:

One reason is that businesses have been fined after sting operations in which mature-looking youths managed to purchase their age-specific contraband. The business owners want to eliminate the possibility of incurring those fines again.

But there's more to it than that: When a store's alcohol license comes up for review (as they always do), the number of times a store had been cited for selling alcohol to a minor factors in whether or not their license will be renewed. Taking away a store's liquor license for too many violations hurts a store much more than a few fines here and there, because in addition to the loss of beer and wine sales, their beer and wine customers will take all of their other shopping elsewhere too. Stores take any threat to their alcohol licenses very seriously.

Yes, carding senior citizens is dumb. But if you have clerks who can't tell who should and shouldn't be carded (and you can't seem to get them to understand), and your business depends on them doing so, I would be telling them to card everyone as well. As a clerk, if I suspected the state was watching the store, I carded everyone as well. The price for being wrong is just too high.