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Tops to proof all for beer, tobacco -- even grandmas

If you're headed to Tops Sunday to pick up a six-pack for the game, don't forget to bring photo identification. That goes for your grandmother, too.

Tops Friendly Markets announced Tuesday it will proof every customer purchasing alcohol and tobacco products, regardless of age.

The implementation of the new policy, dubbed "We Proof Everyone," is an attempt to prevent sales of the forbidden merchandise to minors.

The no-exceptions policy takes effect Sunday in all 76 Tops stores and comes after successful trials at two Ithaca locations chosen for their high population of college students -- a group more likely to attempt an underage purchase. It replaces the company's former policy requiring identification from anyone appearing younger than 30 years old.

Though sales to minors have not been a problem for the Williamsville-based Tops, the company is choosing to take a proactive stance with local law enforcement against unlawful consumption of tobacco and alcohol, said John Persons, Tops senior vice president of operations.

Persons acknowledged the change might ruffle a few feathers from customers well above the legal age, but said he hopes they will understand the importance of a uniform policy.

"Our cashiers are constantly retrained in providing remarkable customer service to our customers. We do understand that at times, problems will arise," said McKenna, who said the company has received little negative feedback from its pilot programs.

Wegmans enacted the same policy in 2004 with favorable results.

"It has become a way of life in a short space of time, now that customers have become acclimated to it," said Wegmans Spokeswoman Ann McCarthy. "Many people understand the benefits outweigh any inconvenience, not the least of which is putting a cashier at risk of an inadvertent underage sale."

Persons said the comprehensive policy would take the guess work away from often young and inexperienced cashiers. Until now, employees have been burdened with choosing which customers to ask for valid proof of age and have been held responsible if they missed the mark.

In New York State, a driver's or non-drivers license, military ID or passport with a photograph and birth date are considered valid proof of identification for tobacco and liquor sales.

Andrea Wanat, executive director of the Erie County Council for the Prevention of Alcohol and Substance Abuse, applauded Tops for its newest policy.

Her agency worked with Tops in the past on "Project Sticker Shock," affixing notices to multipackages of beer that warn of the penalties for buying alcohol for underage consumers.

"This further cements the message that sales to underage customers are just not OK," Wanat said.

e-mail: schristmann@buffnews.com

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