Purchase survey checks area businesses when selling alcohol | Enumclaw Foothills Healthy Community Coalition.

Working in teams of three, young adults cruised the Plateau, making periodic stops as part of an organized beer run.

On the surface, that was nothing out of the ordinary. The scene has been played out since the advent of beer and youth.

But that particular exercise – conducted on two night, one in February and the other in March – was far from ordinary. The young people involved – all 21 or older – were part of an organized “alcohol purchase survey” conducted by the Foothills Healthy Community Coalition.

The FHCC is an offshoot of the Enumclaw Regional Healthcare Foundation.

The alcohol purchase survey was, simply, a fact-finding mission. The plan was hatched to determine how well Enumclaw-area retailers behave when it comes to complying with a trio of state mandates related to alcohol sales.

Setting the stage

For a unique twist to the APS, look to the top. Chairing the entire effort was Sarah Strickler, who is years away from being able to step to a store counter and purchase a six-pack of beer. The 16-year-old sophomore at Bonney Lake High School is a member of the FHCC and jumped at the opportunity to lead the alcohol exercise.

An early step was to recruit volunteers who were at least 21 but could pass for a younger age. They were divided into teams of three: one who would enter a store in search of beer; a driver; and an escort who was on hand to provide support.

Their targets were limited to off-premises alcohol retailers; that is, places where alcohol can be purchased but not consumed. That included grocery stores, mini-marts and other outlets that sell beer, wine or hard liquor. In all, 21 such businesses were identified and 18 were visited.

On two separate evenings, the teams toured the 98022 ZIP code. The routine was simple: young people entered a store, located a six-pack of Coors beer and took it to the counter. If asked for identification, they would explain they didn’t have ID on them; if a clerk was willing to complete a sale, the APS volunteers claimed they left their money in their car and departed.

At no time did the volunteers actually make a purchase, despite being of legal age.

What were they looking for?

The young volunteers were, aside from attempting to buy Coors – or Budweiser if the other brew was not available – looking for a pair of warning notices. By law, alcohol sellers must display signs warning that Fetal Alcohol Syndrome has been linked to women who drink while pregnant; also, they must post a sign alerting customers to the fact they must be born “on or before today’s date in 1993” to purchase alcohol.

Plateau retailers passed two-thirds of the test, scoring well on the most important element of the three-part exercise.

In 81 percent of the establishments, store clerks asked for identification, just as they should have.

In other areas, fewer than half of the establishments met the letter of the law.

Just 47 percent of the retailers posted the appropriate signage indicating someone had to be born prior to that day in 1993 to purchase alcohol. And just 43 percent had the required signage warning about the dangers of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.

What’s next?

Letters will be going in the mail this week to all 18 businesses visited as part of the APS survey. The letter will simply inform them of the result – whether employees asked for identification and whether the required signage was present. It will be made clear this was part of a survey that carries no legal sanctions.

As part of the broader effort, the Foothills Healthy Community Coalition will be inviting alcohol retailers from Black Diamond to Buckley to training sessions on June 23 and 24. Covered will be all aspects of selling alcohol, from various types of identification to dealing with already-intoxicated customers. The training will follow guidelines established by the Washington State Liquor Control Board.