The Chelsea Licensing Commission has put on hold the ban of small liquor bottles (100 ml) after a hearing Tuesday night where numerous package store owners from the City came forward to protest the change.
The hearing came on the heels of the ban of “nip” bottles last month, with Chelsea being the first municipality to ban the sale of the one-shot bottles of liquor. That was to be followed up with the potential ban of small liquor bottles too. However, Chair Mark Rossi said the strong turnout from the liquor licensees in the City caused the Board to pause.
“They told us this would essentially put them out of business,” said Rossi. “The sales of small liquor bottles have been up since the ban on nips and the liquor stores were supplementing the lost income from nips with the 100 ml bottles. The positive on this is there was actually a dialog. This is the first time that has happened. Chelsea is the first municipality that has pub in a ban on nips. Based on that, it showed the community is serious about this issues. All parties considered this a problem.”
He said about half of the 16 package store license holders were at the meeting, which lasted more than two hours.
The result is the ban has been put on hold, but a special meeting has been called for Aug. 28 and a voluntary ban has been called for.
“We are calling a special meeting to address this and pick up where we left off,” Rossi said. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen something like this.”
He said the liquor license holders were asked as a show of good faith to meet with the Police Department and voluntarily ban 100 ml bottles (particularly McCormack’s and Ruble) within 30 days. While the License Commission rarely meets in the summer, Rossi said they would call the special meeting for an update, with the hope being the ban can work informally.
Police Chief Brian Kyes said he is still for the ban, but was encouraged by the willingness of the liquor license holders during the meeting.
“Although the Chelsea Police strongly encourages the commission to proceed with the ban as proposed, I am encouraged that these licensed businesses are engaged in dialogue with the commission, the community and understanding their role in this serious issue,” he said. “Moving forward, we will continue to focus enforcement on any business that violates City licensing rules and state law, especially those that have such an adverse effect on the community.”
But not all was lost in the matter, which is an issue pushed by residents and several city councilors, including Councilor Roy Avellaneda.
Rossi said it was impressed on the liquor license holders that they need to be more connected to the community. He said it was interesting to note that none of them were as involved as they thought they were – particularly in things like the Chamber of Commerce or the local non-profits.
“The idea is we’re not looking to push anyone out of business, but to address a systemic, decades-old problem everyone agrees exists in Chelsea,” he said. “This is a positive step forward to address that issue…It’s important liquor store owners realize they are members of the community and aware of their actions on others. No one wants to go to the hair salon next to a liquor store where they have to step over the urine-soaked body of a perons passed out in the doorway.”
Chelsea Police described a scene where family members struggled to keep the intestines of a 17-year-old boy in his stomach as they frantically banged on the back door of Plaza Mexico after being locked out by a manager following a brutal stabbing allegedly by a known drug dealer from Everett who frequents the establishment.
As the family pleaded for help and no one answered, the young man bled out until his father and a friend took him to MGH-Chelsea, which was closed.
Not only did the bar manager witness the stabbing and lock the victim out, according to police, neither he nor the scores and scores of patrons in the establishment call police.
The first and only 9-1-1 call came from the family of the victim, who were at the closed MGH and requested an ambulance immediately. The only call from the establishment came from employee Miguel Sanchez, who called the non-emergency police number and was heard on the audio recording playing a cat and mouse game about where he was at – first saying he was on scene and then, after about five minutes of back and forth with the dispatcher, admitting he wasn’t there, but had been informed by his staff of a fight.
“We had a 17-year-old that was eviscerated and could have bled to death and there was no help at the bar or from the bar for him,” said Capt. Keith Houghton. “Not even anyone inside called 9-1-1. They’re clientele, and there were a lot of people there that night who saw this, not one of them called police. We had to use the New York Police Department, the Connecticut State Police and many other agencies that don’t want to be named to track the suspect to the Bronx and arrest him due to the delay in notifying us. We could have easily tracked him to his Everett address if we had been alerted immediately…They’ve been penalized before and they’ve been suspended before so I don’t know what the threshold would be for higher sanctions here.”
Still, License Commissioners in the most recent saga of Plaza Mexico on Washington Avenue hesitated to pull the licenses from the restaurant and bar, coming up short in a 2-3 vote on revocation.
Those voting to revoke were Commissioners Roy Avellaneda and Joe Cooney. Those voting against were Chair Sylvia Guzman, Ken Umemba and Mark Rossi. Rossi was the deciding vote in not revoking, seemingly being all for stripping the license but reneging on that at the last minute.
Instead, Commissioners – who stripped the licenses of Las Palmas Lounge last month in a similar situation – opted to suspend Plaza Mexico’s alcohol and entertainment licenses for six months. They are also obligated to install a new management team, install more lighting in the back, install more cameras (they already have 16), hire a new security company with at least two personnel and put in a Panic Button if possible.
In discipline meted out last month by the Commission for separate incidents, Plaza Mexico will begin serving a seven-day closure on Monday, June 22, and will have their hours rolled back to 1 a.m. They will begin the six month suspension five days after getting official notice from the Commission, which could be later this month.
“The lack of call from patrons or anyone else is scary,” said Avellaneda. “Chelsea and the family are lucky that we didn’t have a young individual die that night. God knows with the delay…I think it is a miracle the kid didn’t die. I don’t think a change of manager is a solution here. What do our agents (police) have to do to send us a message? Produce a dead body?”
Umemba was the chief Commissioner arguing for a long suspension.
“I don’t think revocation is the ultimate solution,” he said. “We need to tread gingerly in rushing into total revocation of the licenses. I don’t want it to reverse on appeal. The evidence has to be overwhelming, and I haven’t seen this video [of the incident]. None of us have. We can’t because it is still part of an ongoing criminal investigation.”
Guzman was no pushover for the restaurant, and was very critical of Sanchez and other members of the current staff. However, she said she didn’t think the situation rose to the Palmas situation where the licenses were taken.
“Management and personnel are a systemic failure for this establishment,” she said. “The proposal for a fresh face and a new manager is not it. We still have Miguel… and the staff staying there. Their presence has not changed in many years…My vote [for revocation] on Palmas was because of cumulative things. Though they are similar, they are not the same…For that reason, I am thinking of a long suspension. I’m not quite there on revocation.”However, that 2-3 vote came as quite a surprise after deliberation. Many, even the applicant’s attorney David L’Esperance, seemed to feel that the writing was on the wall and the licenses were about to be taken.
Three votes seemed to be wrapped up, but Rossi changed at the last minute – seemingly erring on the side of caution with Umemba.
The night started out with Attorney L’Esperance admitting that the restaurant had major, systemic failures and that it proposed to enact a seven day closure and then come back with a complete revamp of policies and management.
They also proposed several other improvements as well.
“If it’s the manager and the staff that’s the issue, I’m willing to change whatever has to be changed,” said Geraldo Acunha, who is the manager of record. “I’ll be there full time to make sure things will go the way they should…I’m willing to do whatever you want me to do. we want to save the business.”
No one was buying it, however, especially the police who said they were at a “180-degree” difference with the management on what has occurred there and what needs to be done.
Capt. Houghton indicated that a new manager would probably be a straw.
“There’s a term called a straw,” he said. “They’re going to get someone clean and put them up and the same people are going to run the business. We know that. I think the Commission knows that. They say the owner is going to resign. How is that going to work?”