Editorial: ‘It’s in the mail’ promise gains luster in Northampton

Last modified: Friday, July 11, 2014
You gotta hand it to Eric Suher. The Pioneer Valley entrepreneur has built an empire that ranges from Northampton’s Iron Horse Music Hall to the Holyoke Country club, from the Die Cut Card Company mill building to Mountain Park, from a variety of rental apartments to a former Baptist church he’d like to turn into an events venue.

As if that weren’t enough to keep him busy, Suher just this week demonstrated his skill at the liquor license version of “the dog ate my homework.”

Anyone who’s been following the news in recent months has witnessed Northampton’s repeated attempts to get Suher to either use a long-ago-issued liquor license or return it so some other business owner could. The most recent contretemps included the city License Commission revoking Suher’s license for 26-28 Center Street after he had failed to use it for five years; filing a lawsuit to compel Suher to return the document after he didn’t respond to requests delivered by mail and telephone; and attempting without success to have the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department personally serve Suher with a summons.

Officials said Suher was guilty of holding a “pocket license,” one that stayed improperly tucked away rather than being put to its intended use. They told Suher they’d meet him in court Tuesday for a hearing so a judge could resolve the matter. The jig was up, it seemed. No more Mr. Nice Hamp.

But then, on Monday, Gazette reporter Bob Dunn learned that the city had dropped its suit. Was it because Suher had walked into City Hall with the AWOL liquor license, perhaps bearing an apology for the time he’s taken from city officials through years of delay, for the legal bill footed by taxpayers, for the opportunities denied to other businesspeople who would like to use one of the limited number of licenses?

Nah. Suher simply said the license was in the mail. Now, don’t get the wrong idea.

City officials did not actually receive the license; they simply read an affidavit Suher filed in court in which he stated that he had mailed the document three weeks earlier, on June 13. In the affidavit, Suher acknowledged that he had not responded to the city’s earlier communications, that he had not sent the letter via registered mail and that he had not even made a copy of the license.

Suher simply attested that he had mailed the letter to City Hall, where Mayor David Narkewicz later told Dunn that he’s not aware of any troubles with mail arriving in a timely fashion. Despite not having gotten the license, Narkewicz, License Commission Chairman William Rosen and City Solicitor Alan Seewald agreed that the city should go ahead and drop the suit. According to court filings, part of the agreement between the parties is that Suher will take “reasonable steps” to locate the original license and return it to the city. That is, if it happens to come back into his possession.

In an interview, Seewald said officials decided it would be “in the best interests of the city to accept the affidavit and move on.”

Perhaps it would. We suppose the License Commission can grant a license to another applicant, knowing that Suher has forfeited his right to use the old one. But forgive us for asking if other residents and business owners should see Suher’s technique as one they should emulate. We can already hear the chatter at City Hall:

“That parking fine? It’s in the mail. Honest.”

“My property tax payment? Sent it three weeks ago. I swear and attest.”

“Whaddya mean you didn’t get the paperwork I needed to open my business? Take it up with the post office.”

Whether or not Suher sparks a broader movement of civic nose-thumbing, all of us can rest assured that this drama has not ended. Suher said at last week’s License Commission meeting that he hopes to transfer another idle Northampton booze permit — for the former Baptist church building — to the Center Street location.

That license was also issued five years ago and Suher has missed deadlines for using it. Nonetheless, he told commissioners he hopes they will see fit to allow him to transfer it rather than see it revoked altogether. They gave him until their Aug. 6 meeting to make his case.

Because Suher hopes to open the business right away, he will likely be eager to hear the commissioners’ decision. Perhaps they will follow his lead and say, “It’s in the mail.”