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ABCA suspends three Mon County liquor licenses

West Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Administration suspended three liquor licenses after claiming to find violations over the weekend.

Mason Jar Saloon and Hot Spot, High Street Canteen and Joe Mama’s all received the standard 10-day suspension, ABCA spokesperson Gary Robinson said.

All three businesses were found to be violating social distancing, capacity and mask wearing rules.

Capacity is not strictly defined and could mean too many people at a table or in an area and not just mean an establishment is over capacity, Robinson said.

Robinson did not provide the specific nature of each violation.

Asked if the liquor license suspension felt harsh or unfair, Bill Beveridge, chef and general manager at Mason Jar said, “Honestly, I do.”

He explained Mason Jar’s citation was issued for patrons not wearing masks — but the patrons also had drinks and, to his understanding, people with drinks didn’t need to wear a mask.

Beveridge was at a wedding and not working on Saturday when the ABCA visited, but he said he watched video footage of the encounter and counted 27 patrons — less than 25% of capacity.

Additionally, he said many customers left after speaking to ABCA agents and the State Police. Beveridge said it appeared people were being forced to leave.

The ABCA enforced the suspension on Monday — even going so far as to say the business can’t use its kitchen or facilities in any way, Beveridge said.

“I think they’re abusing the authority that the governor has given them to police things,” he said. “To say we can’t serve food is overstepping their bounds.”

Beveridge explained 75-80% of Mason Jar’s income is from food.

He said he doesn’t understand how the ABCA can restrict the use of the kitchen and prevent food from being served and in his research — they don’t have that authority.

For now, Mason Jar has the food truck from its catering business outside while attorneys work to lift the suspension early, Beveridge said.

Joe Blodgett, owner of Joe Mama’s, said he “absolutely” disputes that pictures taken by the ABCA on Thursday show a violation. He said the pictures were taken at an angle that made the bar appear busier than it was.

Joe Mama’s main floor has a capacity of 400 and there were only about 100 in during the ABCA inspection, general manager Eli Martinez said.

A health department inspector asked that the tables be spaced further out because when the chairs were pulled out there wasn’t enough space between patrons. The inspector said they would be back on Friday to check if it was fixed, Martinez said. Staff fixed the issue before the inspection was over.

“I thought we already used up our one warning and would have to be extra careful all weekend,” Martinez said on Friday. “But today I found out we don’t even get a warning. We had 100 people in there on a floor that can hold 400.”

On Oct. 15, Robinson told The Dominion Post punishment for each violation would be considered on a case-by-case basis and while it’s possible for an establishment to have its license suspended or even revoked for an “egregious” violation, the agency wasn’t looking to be punitive but keep the public safe.

“The short answer is, you could lose your license,” Robinson said.

However, all facts and circumstances, such as the nature of the individual violation and previous violations, would be considered. The goal isn’t to put people out of business after the hardship of the past six months, Robinson said.

Joe Mama’s was last cited in 2012 or 2013, Martinez said.

On Sunday, High Street Canteen posted a picture to Instagram of its front door with multiple signs.

“Closed 🙁 not for COVID violations … ” according to the signs. The signs also included vulgar language.

Robinson said while some of the businesses may feel the citations are unfair, there are many other businesses that did not get citations over the weekend.

The following businesses were checked and found in compliance, Robinson said.

123 Pleasant Street
Baby Squirrel’s Saloon
Big Times
The Bank at 344 High
Almost Heaven
Fat Daddy’s
Sports Page
4th & Goal (criminal citations issued to patrons for false ID)
Crockett’s Lodge in Star City
Sabraton Station
The Met
Liquid Lounge
Sunnyside Bullpen
Tailgater’s Pub
Varsity Club
Kegler’s Sports Bar
Bartini Prime
Buffalo Wild Wings at Suncrest Plaza and at University Town Center

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