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Mayor proposes 1 a.m. closing time for bars

Date: 7/18/2012

By G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD — In reaction to the announcement that Mayor Domenic Sarno would like the Board of License Commissioners to consider changing the closing time for alcohol sales to 1 a.m. from 2 a.m., one bar owner asked, "What did we do wrong?"

Francis Santaniello has owned McCarthy's Tavern on Berkshire Avenue for 30 years. In that time he has been called to the Board of License Commissioners for one violation — one for which Santaniello only received a warning.

Santaniello is feeling the pain from Sarno's last decision of imposing a 1 a.m. end to any and all entertainment — from television sets to karaoke to live bands unless granted a waiver. He said that his jukebox receipts are off $125 a week and that weekly he has lost $600 to $700 at his register.

To apply for a waiver, Santaniello has to present a menu to the mayor's office with his application.

A fan of Sarno — "He has done many good things so far" — Santaniello said he has tried to reach out to the mayor.

"When I called [his office], an attorney called me back," he said.

In a letter to the Board of License Commissioners, Sarno made his case for a reduced closing time, citing the success the new entertainment curfew has had on crime in the Entertainment District.

He wrote, "The new regulations were effective April 6, 2012. The regulations have had a positive effect on various crime statistics in the downtown entertainment district since the implementation of the regulations. Specifically, a comparison of the time period from April 6, 2011 to May 6, 2011 (when the Special Late Night Permit was not in effect) and the same period for 2012 (after it went into effect) indicates a 22 percent decrease in the total number of calls for service by the Springfield Police Department in the Stearns Square area between Worthington Street and Bridge Street within the heart of the entertainment district; 401 versus 314. In addition, the overtime costs to the Police Department for that same area have gone down 10 percent from $16,136 down to $14,574.

"A synopsis of crime statistics from all of the streets within the downtown entertainment district for a similar time frame, showing the hours from 1 a.m. to 6:30 a.m., broken down by the 'types of calls' involving: 1) 'disturbance,'2) 'gun calls,' 3) 'man down,' and 4) "shots fired", shows an overall decrease of 50 percent. A table of all arrests, broken down by type, for the same area and time period shows a total decrease of 44 arrests down to 14; a 68 percent decrease.

"I would request that the License Commission consider exercising its authority pursuant to Massachusetts General Laws, Chapter 138, section 12 to adjust the operating hours for licenses. Under that state law, the hours during which sales of such alcoholic beverages may be made by any licensee as aforesaid shall be fixed by the local licensing authorities either generally or specially for each licensee. This discretion applies to sales after 11 p.m. and 2 a.m. This change would require the licensing authority to hold a public hearing concerning the public need for such decrease; with a two-week notice of the public hearing."

Tying crime to alcohol sales and late night hours is nothing new in the Commonwealth. The Boston Globe reported that in 2006 Brockton considered going to 1 a.m. because of crime concerns. The Brockton Enterprise reported the effort failed twice, last time being in April.

Across the border, in Providence, R.I., many bars have two closing times: 1 a.m. during the week and 2 a.m. for the weekends. Hartford, Conn., has a similar arrangement.

Santaniello fears that customers will seek out neighboring cities for their nights out. He said that already bars in East Longmeadow and Chicopee advertise they have entertainment until 2 a.m.

If businesses in Springfield can't compete and go under, Santaniello noted the city would lose tax revenue.

"If you have a problem child," Santaniello said, "you deal with that problem child."