At a special meeting on Sept. 24, Lebanon City Council unanimously rejected a request by the owner of northside grocery store Ideal Food Basket to allow beer and wine sales on the premises.

At the same time, council and the mayor expressed their hope that a series of food safety and building violations could be corrected to allow the store to remain an alternative for north side shoppers.

According to city council’s meeting notice, store owner 640 Lebanon Food Corp had purchased a restaurant alcohol license, currently assigned to South Lebanon Township, at a Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board auction.

The 4-0 vote denied a resolution that would have allowed the license to be re-located to the city, subject to PaLCB approval. Councilwoman Amy Keller, who resigned two days earlier, did not participate.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Code caps the number of restaurant liquor licenses allowed in any municipality, and the city is already at its limit. However, a municipality may pass a resolution waiving the limit.

The store has been cited for at 13 food safety violations between April, 2019 and September 15, 2020, and that history seemed to play a part in council’s denial.

City Code Enforcement Supervisor Glenn Yanos told council that two inspections this July had revealed numerous violations, “mostly repeat.”

“A lot of the same things over and over for the past year and a half,” said Yanos.

Yanos noted a “significant improvement” at his August inspection, reporting that “there were only [three] violations on that day.”

The improvements were largely gone when Yanos returned on September 15. He was “very disappointed because a lot of the improvement that I saw in August was not there in September.”

Yanos noted that the bulk of the repeat violations dealt with food storage, employee hygiene matters such as glove use, record keeping requirements, and a lack of managerial oversight.

City Public Works Director Robin Getz told council that the owners had on multiple occasions done work at the store, such as plumbing and demolition of a basement freezer, without submitting drawings and applying for required permits.

City Fire Commissioner Duane Trautman added that he found several fire code violations caused by exit doors that could not be opened without special magnetic fobs. Ideal’s Jeremy Diaz responded the magnetic locks had been removed since Trautman’s inspection.

Ideal’s attorney, David Berger of Allentown, argued that the standard for considering an inter-municipal liquor license transfer should be “whether [Ideal’s] sale of alcohol would be injurious to the health, safety, or welfare of the neighborhood.”

He emphasized that there was ample parking, ample ingress and egress to the property, and that it complied with zoning laws.

While not denying any of the violations, Berger told council that the liquor license relocation should be approved because “there is nothing with regard to the property itself that, adding sales of beer and possibly wine, would injure the neighborhood.”

After the vote to deny was taken, Council Chairman Wayne Carey and Mayor Sherry Capello stated the city’s desire to work with Ideal and insure its success.

According to its website, “Ideal Food Basket stores are members of America’s Food Basket LLC, a Cooperative of independent food grocers located in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Georgia, Florida & Pennsylvania. At its inception in 2007, the cooperative started with just three supermarkets and has now grown to 50 stores.”

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