Editorial: Northampton commission hangs tough in case of Eric Suher’s unused liquor licenses

Laste modified: Monday, November 25, 2013
The Northampton License Commission is right to press business owner Eric Suher for details about his plans for two businesses for which he holds alcohol licenses. A review of his appearances before the commission, the local enforcing body for the state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, suggests he has been less than transparent about his plans for the sites.

It’s about time the panel set dates by which he must use the licenses or lose them.

The licenses at issue are those attached to two dormant businesses, one at 298 Main St., formerly the Old Baptist Church at the corner of West and Main streets, and 26-28 Center St., where Blue Note Guitar formerly operated.

Suher bought the former Baptist church in November of 1993 for $125,000. He has said he intends to open a space that will host concerts, present lectures and provide a venue for weddings.

He has owned the Center Street building that housed the guitar shop since November 2005, when he purchased it and four other downtown commercial properties for $7 million in one fell swoop.

At that site, he’s said he will operate a lounge with food and beverage service.

Suher obtained an annual all-alcohol license for the former church property in November 2008, six months after he obtained his last work permit for the property in May 2008. He purchased a seasonal all-alcohol license for the Blue Note Guitar space in February 2009. That was two months before he took out a work permit — the last one pulled on the site — to renovate drop ceilings.

At three meetings of the License Commission over the last 13 months, Suher has made statements about his plans for the sites. In October last year, Suher told the commission he hoped to open the enterprise in the former church in late fall or early winter. He also said the Center Street project was delayed by construction of the Northampton Police Station. In March 2013, he sent an email to the commission saying he expected to open the Center Street lounge by June 1.

In June 2013, he told commission members the Center Street site could open by late fall of 2013.

Meanwhile, according to city officials, neither site is anywhere close to being ready to open — nor are there any open building permits that would indicate work is about to commence.

They have ample reason to question Suher’s assurances. Yet, at a License Commission meeting last Wednesday, when questioned about his failure to finish the projects and put the licenses to use, Suher did not appear contrite at all. Instead he seemed to imply the commission had it out for him. “You’d rather give up the license than give me some time to get this finished,” he told William Rosen, the commission chairman. “I must have done something really bad to you at some point.”

If Suher doesn’t want to have to answer to the License Commission, he shouldn’t operate businesses that require liquor licenses.

City attorney Alan Seewald said the commission has every right to choose not to renew the two licenses, writing,

“The failure to conduct the licensed businesses constitutes ‘cause’ for rejecting the renewal applications for these premises, particularly where, as here, that failure extends over several years.”

At its meeting last week, the commission could have revoked Suher’s licenses — instead its members opted to give him more time, but set limits.

He has until February to get the Center Street site operational or possibly lose his license — and he has until June 14 to complete the project at the former church site and open for business, or potentially lose the license. In the meantime he must update the commission on his progress.

State licenses to serve and sell alcohol are a valuable commodity for business owners who hold them, and for the communities in which they are used.

We support the License Commission in its quest to make sure the city reaps as much benefit as possible economically from the 95 alcohol licenses issued in Northampton.

Holding an alcohol license is not a right, but a privilege. The holders of them must be accountable to the License Commission.