Hitting your local Plaid Pantry on a beer run? Better put on a new shirt.
The Beaverton-based convenience-store chain has long had a policy against selling alcohol to "people with dirty and disheveled clothing who may have been sleeping in the street." But to enforce it? After all, making Plaid Pantry clerks judge whether our jeans are clean enough to buy a 40-ouncer seems absurd.
But Ed Johnson, a homeless-rights lawyer in Portland, reports that one of his clients was denied beer at a Gresham Plaid Pantry just two weeks ago.
"What really bugs me is just the spiteful sort of stereotype," Johnson says.
Us, too. So for its leap of sartorial logic, Plaid Pantry earns this week's Rogue dishonors. Even after it turned out, when we sent an intern undercover, that you never know whether the policy is going to be enforced.
Plaid Pantry's president Chris Girard says he's under pressure from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, the City of Portland, police and neighborhood groups not to sell to street drinkers. The chain has 100 stores statewide, mainly in Portland.
"Dirty and disheveled—that is our internal language to describe someone who appears to be a transient, homeless, chronic street alcoholic," Girard says. "Most transient, homeless, chronic alcoholic street people are disheveled. I don't mean to be offensive, but I can see that."
But who's to say whether one adult customer's disheveled look means they can't buy beer?
"Just because somebody is homeless or appears homeless doesn't mean they don't have a place where they can drink a beer inside, like [at] a friend's," Johnson says.
When Johnson's homeless client was refused service in Gresham, the man complained to the store clerk. The clerk handed him a one-page policy statement from corporate HQ stating, "It is the strict policy of Plaid Pantry that we do not sell alcohol to homeless street drinkers."
Besides the "dirty and disheveled," it bars sales to customers who "have all of their possessions in a shopping cart."
Girard admits customers might be singled out by mistake. But he stands by the 10-year-old policy, which in its latest update still includes "disheveled" as a sign someone is intoxicated. "We are probably more restrictive than anyone else, but that is our position," he says. "We follow the policy much more aggressively in known problem areas."
The kicker to all this came when we dressed an intern in shabby clothes, dragged him through the dirt, and sent him on a morning beer run throughout Portland last Friday, March 9.
Five Plaid Pantrys sold beer to the intern, who was so dirty and disheveled (see photo) he drew stares even on the streets of Portland. He had no trouble loading up on 24-ounce cans of Olde English 800, Steel Reserve and Schlitz Bull Ice at Plaid Pantries on East Burnside Street, Southeast Grand Avenue, Northeast 16th Avenue and Northwest Glisan Street.
The policy tells clerks to ask for ID from customers who "may be a street drinker." If their address is near the store, they "may not be inclined to drink on the street" and it's OK to make the sale. WW's intern got carded at every store, but with his Washington license showing he was 27 years old, they sold him the beer.
Girard declined to comment on his clerks' performance enforcing the rules. But he doesn't plan to make any changes. At least Plaid Pantry is hiring some clerks who are usually smart enough not to be wasting everybody's time enforcing its Roguish rule.