Board Hands Out $12,500 In Fines For Violations

SNOW HILL — Eight businesses who violated their alcohol beverage licenses in recent months were given a total of $12,500 in fines this week by the Worcester Board of License Commissioners (BLC).
Hit hardest was the Beach House Restaurant, part of the Castle in the Sand property, on 38th Street in Ocean City. The license received three fines for a total of $4,000 and also received a three-day suspension of their beverage license. It also had two previous violations, resulting in $500 in fines. The three-day suspension has not taken effect and is under Circuit Court review.
The Beach House was found in violation of a sale to a minor in June as well as multiple infractions of the board’s rules and regulations in both May and June, specifically Rule 30 and 31 which deal with business cooperation for inspections. On two occasions, the Ocean City Police Department (OCPD) documented difficulties conducting checks on the property, with one incident escalating to where the plainclothes officers called for uniform backup because they anticipated a confrontation.
However, since then Beach House management has met with the OCPD and both sides believe that things should be carried out in a smoother fashion in the future.
“I can assure you that you will have a cooperative, positive relationship with the enforcement and the officers and the police department going forward,” said license holder Adam Showell. “I feel that I’ve made mistakes and we’re on a new footing here.”
OCPD Public Information Officer Mike Levy agreed that things are looking better cooperation-wise and called Beach House “one of the many jewels in the crown of Ocean City.” While the BLC was glad to hear that past issues seem to have been resolved, the three-member board still came down hard on the licensee, stressing that a violation was bad but refusal to cooperate with the police was even worse.
“I read the [police reports] four times,” said BLC Chair William Esham. “I couldn’t believe what I was reading.”
The Lazy Lizard on 1st Street in Ocean City also saw hefty fines, though avoided the more painful license suspension. The bayfront establishment was fined $3,000 for a sale to minor violation, its third such violation in the past three summers. In this instance, it was a simple bartender error, explained Hugh Cropper, attorney for the establishment.
“The [underage police] cadet was carded at the door and not given a wristband but a mistake was made at the bar,” he said. “Remember, the cadet did not have a wristband.”
The bartender did notice his error after the sale and attempted to get the drink back, Cropper continued, but it was too late. Since the most recent violation, the general manager has been replaced at the Lizard and a new zero tolerance internal checking system has been implemented. A total of $1,000 in fines had already been accumulated by the Lazy Lizard between its prior two violations from earlier seasons.
O.C. Party Market at 300 South Baltimore Avenue in Ocean City was fined $3,000 for two sales to minor violations within the same week in late June.
Sergeant Doug Smith of the OCPD told the BLC that the Party Market does not seem to be taking its responsibilities seriously.
“I find this business was probably very sloppy in their [ID] checking,” he said.
But the store has a good record of passing compliance checks, having no issues since 2008 despite the police visiting several times and having underage cadets attempt to purchase alcohol. Smith acknowledged that they were passing but said that many checks were “close calls.”
Like the O.C. Party Market, Plaza Tapatia was also spared a suspension, but was fined a total of $2,500 for two sales to minor violations at two separate locations. The Plaza Tapatia at 1621 Ocean Highway in Pocomoke and the location at 11007 Manklin Creek Road in Berlin suffered violations this summer. Though they were different facilities, they are tied to the same license, which encompasses a dozen locations and has had incidents in the past.
A high employee turnover rate, which makes proper training difficult, is the main reason for the violations, according to resident agent C.L. Marshal.
“Unfortunately, the nature of the beast is the turnover there and the ability to find a good work staff there,” he said, noting the troubles with the Pocomoke location particularly.
But Deputy Jennifer Hall of the Worcester County Sheriff’s Office attributed the problem to a perceived disregard of responsibility. The staff at several Plaza Tapatia locations seems to have communication issues, she said, and the management appears generally apathetic to the need to eliminate alcohol sales to minors.
“They don’t speak English, they don’t ask for ID and they don’t appear to care. I don’t believe that they will card. I don’t believe that if they get scanners they will be used,” she told the BLC. “And I don’t believe that they should continue to have a license because that’s how strongly I feel about it.”
The board didn’t go that far, but did levee a hefty fine and warned that further violations would come with even stiffer penalties.
Unlike the others, the O.C. Dollar Store at 203 North Philadelphia Avenue in Ocean City did not receive any fine for its sale to minor violation as it was a first offense. However, Smith warned the board that he had heard unfavorable reports about the location through the grapevine and that it was suspected of being an easy spot for underage kids to purchase alcohol. He’s even heard rumors of a secret “password” that could be told to the clerk so they wouldn’t ask for identification.
“I know this is a first violation, but this isn’t the first time that they’ve come up on my radar,” said Smith.
Mark Cropper, attorney for the licensee, argued that Smith’s testimony should be disregarded by the BLC because it was based only on rumors. Additionally, because the license has changed hands recently, any old issues the police may have had with the location’s prior operation are irrelevant.
The board decided to only issue a letter of reprimand, but warned the store that if it’s found to be a hotspot or willing to look the other way for underage alcohol sales, the OCPD would catch them eventually.
The final two sale to minor hearings also resulted in letters of reprimand for first time violations at the Assawoman Ale Shop on 52nd Street in Ocean City and Castaways at 12652 Eagles Nest Road in Berlin. Both were attributed to employee error and warned to tighten up training and management oversight.
In addition to the sale to minor violations, the Paul Revere Smorgasbord at 2nd Street and the Boardwalk in Ocean City was issued a letter of reprimand for a series of four noise violations issued in the same week between late-June and early-July. Except for the first violation, all of the others occurred between 1 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., unusual hours for such complaints to be filed. The management has acted to address the complaints and warns bands not to get out of hand no matter the time of day, said attorney Joe More. Besides the letter of reprimand, the license also had its entertainment amended to a cutoff of 11 p.m.