First, a disclaimer: It’s not often we find ourselves defending corporate retail behemoths and we take no pleasure in it—but then, attending Liquor Control meetings will do strange things to your sense of right and wrong.
Here’s the scene: A rather nervous and soft-spoken middle manager for the Kahului KMart (or Big K, or whatever they’re calling themselves these days) was sweating under the glare of the LC Adjudication Board. About a year ago, a cashier at his store sold a six-pack to a minor decoy during a sting operation. Layering on the illegality, the cashier was only 17 years old.
After stumbling through his explanation, the KMart rep was subjected to a stern lecture about the inadequacies of both his answers and his store’s training and ID-checking policies. He offered little in the way of a rebuttal, and no one in the room expected the board to do anything but penalize; KMart’s no contest plea to the charges guaranteed as much. What was somewhat surprising was the severity of the penalty: A $2,000 fine and a seven-day suspension of the store’s liquor license.
Now, no one is going to shed any tears for KMart over a couple grand and a week of lost alcohol sales; a company of their size and heft can absorb that without blinking. But a body like the LC has to strive for consistency in its rulings.
During the same session, ABC Stores (a smaller chain) was brought up on almost identical charges, plead no contest, and was hit with only a $2,000 fine, half of it suspended.
Did the board slap KMart harder merely because it’s a huge company? We’ll never know, since their deliberations take place behind closed doors. But when two entities commit almost the exact same offense (though admittedly KMart’s was complicated by the underage clerk) and are given such disproportionate punishments, you’ve got to wonder about fairness.