October 23, 2002

New York State ABC Law Attempts to Limit Liquor Consumption

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With the attempts to purge underage drinking in Collegetown, many Cornell students have expressed discontent at the lack of social options this semester, especially when it comes to having access to alcohol. Earlier in the semester The Ithaca Journal even declared “New Challenges on the Party Front.” As local police and state agencies attempt to eliminate underage drinking, students are finding just that.

“Cornell is being so strict, it just seems like they’re trying to stop all the fun,” said Jose Dengo ’04. His sentiments are shared by many underage students whose weekend plans are often halted when “the ABC is in town.”

The ABC, however, is not a group but a law. ABC stands for the Alcohol Beverage Control Law, which is enforced by the New York State Liquor Authority. Their responsibilities include reviewing applications for licenses to sell and distribute alcoholic beverages, investigating licensees in connection with violations of ABC law, bringing disciplinary charges against licensees when appropriate, and inspecting premises where alcoholic beverages are sold.

According to Janet Ellis, a spokesperson for the public affairs division of the State Liquor Authority, the office generally receives referrals from local or state police. When members of the Liquor Authority suspect a licensed premises are violating the law, they can respond in any number of ways. For example, “Police can send an underage person into a bar to see if they get served,” she said.

Lieutenant Kathy Zoner of the University Police explained the ABC inspection protocol.

“Representatives from the Liquor authority will either come down periodically on their own or when local or state police see problems arising,” she said. “There are certain times of the year they make certain to visit, such as Slope Day, Dragon Day, and graduation time.”

Students are concerned because the State Liquor Authority has sent representatives to the Ithaca area a disproportionate number of times this semester.

According to Erik Snyder ’03, CEO and founder of Absolute Catering, the Liquor Authority sent a representative to Ithaca during the four weekends prior to fall break.

“They only have two people to serve 19 counties. When one spends four weekends in a row in Ithaca, that seems like a lot,” he said.

While the State Liquor Authority claimed that they had not visited Ithaca and Cornell any more frequently this year than they have in the past, many have noticed their recurrent presence.

“This year the Liquor Authority has visited more often than they have in the past largely due to the almost scary amount of activity with large sized crowds prior to the start of school and well into the semester,” said Zoner.

Earlier this semester, Ithaca Mayor Alan Cohen ’81 sent an e-mail to Cornell students notifying them of a new zero-tolerance policy. In his e-mail, he stated, “the activity of the past few weeks has stretched our resources. Our people are exhausted from working an inordinate amount of overtime … We are concerned for their safety and that of those who attend the many parties we have seen.”

At an Interfraternity Council meeting following the announcement of a crackdown, Laura Signer, Acting Chief of the Ithaca Police allegedly warned attendees that the police department was chartering a Greyhound bus to drive around Collegetown and campus to arrest underage students found drinking.

This warning not only instilled fear in students, but also in bar owners and third party caterers.

“Many students insist on being served underage with identification. Business owners are then caught in a tough spot. Do they turn away business or risk a fine? Students really put pressure on the establishment owners,” Zoner said.

If an establishment is caught serving alcohol to minors, they can face fines up to $10,000. This could explain why so many Collegetown bars have had to shut their doors over the past few years.

“Typically Collegetown bars aren’t long standing. They come in, make money, and move out,” Zoner said .

Last year a third party catering company, Big Red Catering — formerly known as Spirits — was also forced to end their business due to poor regulation at parties.

“Catering isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot better than the alternative of open parties and free-for-alls,” said Snyder.

Absolute Catering is one of several third party catering companies that work with the University and the Greek system to regulate drinking at parties. During homecoming weekend Absolute Catering faced several major charges from the State Liquor Authority which will end up costing them a very substantial fee. As a result, Snyder and other student leaders are trying to improve the system and work with administration to make sure they can stay in business.

At an IFC meeting in mid-September, Paul El-Meouchy ’03, Vice President of University and Community relations for the IFC, spoke with an Ithaca police officer regarding the issue.

“I said to the officer, ‘if you want parties to slow down you need to work with fraternities, you shouldn’t threaten them.'”

The officer replied, stating concern that “the ABC was coming into town to try to shut down catering companies.”

“I think what has been happening with the State Liquor Authority has been ridiculous,” said Jason Conn ’03, President of the IFC in response to the Liquor Authority’s attack on Greek life. “Fraternities are doing everything in their power to comply with state law and policies and sometimes incidents are out of their control. The Liquor Authority is not leaving frats until they find a violation.”

Eliminating third party catering companies would mean eliminating registered parties, something both students and administration admit would be a major problem.

“Not having a catering service available would cause a tremendous disadvantage to Greeks and this office,” said Suzy Nelson, Associate Dean of Students for Fraternity and Sorority Affairs. “We want to partner with caterers that follow regulations. That is the best system for Greek life at Cornell.”

At the same time, the University is under pressure to comply with state laws. “We don’t want to interfere with the ABC’s legal authority and their right to monitor inappropriate alcohol consumption,” said Kent Hubbell, Dean of Students.

“Cornell needs to be involved and proactive to show their support for third party catering,” said Snyder.

El-Meouchy agreed, saying, “College students will party because they want to party. If they can’t register events and have to take the illegal route, there will be a lot more problems. It’s a dangerous dance to eliminate catering companies. You’ll just eliminate controlled parties, not uncontrolled ones.”

Archived article by Stacey Delikat