Arnold City Council members have revoked the business licenses for Arnold Express Market, 542 Jeffco Blvd, and the Sky Lounge, 469 Jeffco Blvd.
The city previously had suspended the licenses after they were cited by the Arnold Police for allegedly selling tobacco, vaping-related items or alcohol to minors.
“Our police officers are enforcing the law that we created, and we need to support them,” Mayor Ron Counts said. “Selling any tobacco or alcoholic product to underage children is against the law. We should not be tolerating it. I am proud of our councilmen who revoked their business licenses. I think it was the right thing to do.”
The council voted unanimously Dec. 12 to revoke the licenses following a hearing that allowed representatives from the two businesses to argue their cases for lifting the suspension of their business licenses.
A third business – M&O Vapes and Snacks at 1612 Jeffco Blvd – was scheduled to have a hearing on Dec. 12, too. However, that hearing was rescheduled for today, Dec. 19, because the lawyer for the business was unable to make last week’s hearing, City Administrator Bryan Richison said.
Even though the council revoked two business licenses and the third is considered suspended, all three businesses continue to operate because on Dec. 2, Jefferson County Div. 1 Circuit Judge Joseph Alfred Rathert granted Arnold Express Market a temporary restraining order against the suspension.
Richison said the city decided to allow Sky Lounge and M&O Vapes and Snacks to remain open as long as the temporary restraining order was in place for Arnold Express Market, because all three cases are similar in nature.
A preliminary injunction hearing in front of Rathert was scheduled for Dec. 13, but that court date was moved to Friday, Dec. 20, Richison said.
At that hearing, Rathert will decide whether to issue an injunction against the city’s decision to suspend and now revoke Arnold Express Market’s business license, which would allow the business to remain open if further legal proceedings are required.
Brandon Moonier, a lawyer with Thurman Law Firm who is representing Arnold Express Market, said he was disappointed with the council’s decision.
“I was hopeful that the council would see the flaws in their own process,” Moonier said. “That may have been naive of me. When I look at this objectively, I feel a first-year law student would see the lack of procedure and flaws in the current ordinance. I was truly hopeful the council would hear the evidence last night or allow us to present some kind of evidence that they didn’t allow me to do.
“I hoped they would hear the argument and agree there are several uncertainties in how their ordinance is presented.”
Arnold’s ordinances allow the city to suspend a business license if it violates any city or state laws or takes part in an activity that is determined to be detrimental to the community or jeopardizes the public health and safety.
After the businesses were cited for reportedly selling tobacco or vape products to minors, the city administrator issued notices that the businesses’ licenses were suspended for 30 days and the hearings before the City Council were scheduled.
Arnold Express Market’s license was suspended Nov. 18 after the business was issued citations on Nov. 17 for allegedly selling tobacco, alternative nicotine or vapor products to minors, for not properly displaying a sign saying nicotine and vapor products will not be sold to minors and for making a false affidavit, city documents said.
It was closed until Dec. 2, when Rathert issued the temporary restraining order.
M&O’s license was suspended Dec. 2, the same day the business was issued citations for allegedly selling tobacco, alternative nicotine or vapor products to minors and for not properly displaying a sign saying nicotine and vapor products will not be sold to minors, city documents said.
The Sky Lounge’s license was suspended Nov. 25 after it received citations on Nov. 23 for allegedly permitting the consumption of alcohol on its premises without a liquor license and for selling tobacco, alternative nicotine or vapor products to a minor, according to city documents.
“The fact is the law says you have to be 18 years old in order to purchase it,” Counts said. “They are breaking the law when they sell it to someone who is not of age. There is a reason they have an age restriction on it. I think we should not tolerate someone who is selling a product of this nature to anyone who is underage. We know that is wrong, and there are laws against it.”
During the hearings, Ali Saadi, who owns and operates the Sky Lounge, told the council he did not believe he violated any law in regard to alcohol. He said he does not drink himself, because it is against his religion, and he will not sell alcohol at his establishment.
However, Saadi told the council he does let customers, who are 21 years old or older, bring in their own alcohol and drink at his establishment.
As far as a minor purchasing a tobacco product at the lounge, Saadi said he has someone checking IDs at the door on the weekends, and he believes someone may have entered using a fake ID.
Moonier spoke for Maen Musleh, who owns and operates Arnold Express Market, and argued that the city’s procedures are backwards and the city is trying a civil case before a criminal case is settled. Arnold Express Market is scheduled to appear in Arnold Municipal Court in January to defend itself against the citation, Moonier said.
Moonier also pointed out that the state’s penalties for violations of this nature are not as harsh as what the city of Arnold has imposed by first suspending and now revoking business licenses.
According to Missouri statutes, the first offense for a sales clerk selling a tobacco product to a minor is $25 and then it increased to $250 for a third offense. Businesses are not forced to close down for any length of time unless the offense is repeated in a two-year period, and the first shutdown does not occur unless it is a second offense and then the business is closed for 24 hours, according to state statutes.
“When you look at Missouri state stature for selling to the minor, there is a graduated scale,” Moonier said. “Arnold has just blown those statutes out of the water when it comes to repercussions on these types of activities.”
Ward 1 Councilman Jason Fulbright said the council members discussed the Arnold Express Market and Sky Lounge business licenses for about 15 minutes after the hearings.
He also said he wasn’t surprised it didn’t take very long for council members to make a decision. He said he felt neither argument from the business owners focused enough on the steps they take to avoid illegal sales, even though Moonier presented a binder that showed new training procedures and testing at the Arnold Express Market and photos of multiple signs stating the business will not sell tobacco products to minors.
“It felt like (Sweeney) came in with a good presentation that said here is what happened and these businesses are in violation of the laws and their business licenses,” Fulbright said. “I didn’t hear a lot from the other end of this is not what happened.
“We hope that businesses in Arnold, especially when they are dealing with items that are controlled and restricted from minors, rather than make a quick buck would do their due diligence and not sell to minors. That is not the way things go.”