The city Liquor Board may be operating under new leadership, but that doesn’t mean their actions no longer concern the Community Law Center or raise issues red-flagged in a harsh state audit.
Approving license transfers and granting hardship extensions for establishments with dead licenses or whose corporate entities are no longer in good standing with the state are definite no-no’s – they’re two of the practices pinpointed in the 2013 audit as chronic problems.
Last Thursday, the Board did both.
One instance was a request for a hardship extension to preserve the license for 900 South Kenwood Avenue in Canton. The bar there, Americana, has been closed since February. What’s more, its corporate entity had been dissolved.
The commissioners and the licensee’s attorney, Melvin J. Kodenski, were in agreement that Semper Fidelis, LLC was no more. (Americana was operated by a former Marine.)
“My concern is that corporate entity is dissolved,” Commissioner Dana Moore said. This fact made their license invalid, she seemed to be saying, so how could they grant it an extension?
“Once the application is approved, they’ll have to get it together,” Kodenski replied.
Why, Moore pressed, didn’t they take care of the corporate entity problem before coming to the board to ask for a “hardship” break?
“I don’t understand why they didn’t do it first!” Moore said. Kodesnki sighed and responded philosophically, “Why don’t people do anything!”
Chairman Thomas Ward then announced that the motion was granted. “Six months extension,” he declared. Fellow commissioners Moore and Harvey Jones did not object. So that was that.
Reprieve for a “Zombie”
Such a departure from the law may seem small, but the accretion of so much leave-taking over the years was a concern not only of the state auditors.
The watchdogs at the Law Center and community critics say uneven enforcement of the rules and lax record-keeping have accrued to the benefit of bar owners and undermined confidence in the agency.
Under new chairman Ward, the three-member panel has made many changes that have impressed observers, some of them noted in the Law Center’s lengthy Booze News blog write-up of Ward’s first day of conducting hearings and their subsequent post on the July 10 meeting.
But along with tough enforcement actions at the Board’s second meeting, there were other cases that raised eyebrows. One was the matter of Trading Post Liquors.
The basement-level establishment has not been open for well over a year – since a February 2013 fire. Licenses for businesses shut for more than 180 days are by law dead, although the matter of “zombie licenses” continuing to survive for sometimes years was a bone of contention among critics and the previous board.)
The boarded-up and forlorn-looking Trading Post sits vacant today at the corner of Braddish Avenue and Presbury Streets in a residential neighborhood near Coppin State University.
Looking at the file, Commissioner Moore noted that 7th District Councilman Nick Mosby “adamantly objects to a hardship extension” for the establishment.Under questioning, licensee Janet Zumo acknowledged that she has not applied for a building permit, is unemployed and is physically able to work.
“I’m inclined to deny it,” Chairman Ward said. But Jones and Moore seemed to sympathize with Zumo, who said she was trying to sell the place and had lingering issues as a result of the fire. “She’s fighting the insurance company,” Jones said. “I would consider granting one extension.”
“You requested a hardship extension in February/March of this year, so this is your second time,” said Ward, who voted “no” on the request.
Moore and Jones voted yes. So it passed 2-1.
On Video: A Dressing-down by Fogleman
Another interesting case from Thursday’s meeting was Silk’s in Canton.
In this instance, a member of the audience – regular Liquor Board watcher Larry Singer, making an unscheduled appearance as a witness involving an establishment near his home at Tindeco Apartments – persuaded the commissioners to turn down the licensee’s request.
Dennis Danielczyk was asking the board to reconsider the December rejection of his request for expansion of the establishment, at 2641 Hudson, to an adjacent property.
Ward seemed to have fond memories of the establishment. “This is old Jimmy Silk’s place,” Ward said. “What a character! They don’t make them like that anymore.”
But Singer had observations to offer about the current operation, which opened in March. It had been run well so far, he said, but added that “there has been some smoke and mirrors involved in this bar.”
He noted that at a December 2013 hearing, previous board chairman, Stephan W. Fogleman, gave the licensee “a dressing down” about beginning demolition to quadruple the space of the establishment without telling the board. Singer recalled Fogleman expressing concern about Silk’s potential to become a “mega-bar.”
Fogleman’s tart remarks are captured on this video he made of the hearing.
In the YouTube clip, Fogleman spells out the history of the storied watering hole, previously the Lakewood Tavern, operated by Agnes Silk, and after that, run as Silk’s by Kevin Moore.
“It was almost infamous in Canton as a small bar on one floor of one rowhouse” in a residential area, Fogleman said. “Mr. Moore treated it like his home and didn’t have dozens of people lined up there at any given time.”
“Go Get a Track Record!”
But Fogleman said the new Silk’s had not been open long enough for the board to be able to judge it. He told the licensee to come back after six months of operating “as a small bar.”
Out of concern for potential problems with noise, loitering and parking, the request for a second-floor expansion was denied, Fogleman told Danielczyk. “Go get a track record!” he said.
But in coming back Thursday after only four months of operation, Silk’s was looking for a reprieve. The licensee’s attorney Peter Prevas pointed out that, as Singer had observed, the bar had been run well during that time with no reported complaints.
But after listening to Singer’s testimony and reviewing the file, Ward concluded that Danielczyk had jumped the gun. The request was denied.