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Council slaps Hastings Walmart with liquor license suspension, fine

People who shop for liquor at Walmart in Hastings will have to find somewhere else to go Jan. 8 and 9.

The city suspended Walmart's liquor license for those two days as a punishment for failing two alcohol compliance checks in a 24-month period. The city is also fining the store $750.

On Oct. 28, 2008, Hastings police conducted ID compliance checks at 11 Hastings businesses that sell off-sale alcohol. The checks involve sending an underage person into the stores and having them try to purchase liquor. Walmart failed this most recent check and another in September 2007.

The city's policy on compliance checks calls for the fine and suspension when two checks are failed in a 24-month period.

Thomas Gilligan, a lawyer for Walmart, appeared at a public hearing held on the issue at the Hastings City Council meeting Monday night.

"Walmart takes this violation very seriously," Gilligan said.

The employee who made the sale, Kevin Engstrom, has since been fired, according to Gilligan. Also, he said, before starting work at Walmart, every cashier has to go through a computer-based training program on the importance of checking IDs. Gilligan said the store has made all cashiers go through the program again since the illegal sale was made in October.

He also said employees at the store have been instructed to ask for an ID for anyone purchasing alcohol that appears to be under the age of 40.

Gilligan requested that the council only impose a one-day suspension of Walmart's liquor license and asked that council allow the store to serve it after Jan. 1.

Mayor Paul Hicks proposed what he called a compromise, wherein Walmart would be forced to serve the full two-day suspension, but that it would be after the first of the year, and suggested Jan. 8 and 9.

That brought about some discussion, with Council Member Tony Alongi saying the council shouldn't set the precedent of granting requests to businesses that break the law. For that reason, Alongi said, he voted against the motion.

The city's policy calls for the two-day suspensions to be served on a Thursday and Friday selected by the council. Hicks said the next two Thursdays are holidays (Christmas Day and New Year's Day), and that the store might be closed or have limited hours then, and for that reason, he chose to extend the suspension to Jan. 8 and 9.