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Crowd expected at Easthampton hearing on two liquor licenses

The issue was unresolved at the board’s last meeting on Sept. 5 because two of three board members declined to vote after a contentious discussion with the applicants and their supporters.

Both businesses plan to bring more supporters to Wednesday’s hearing. Board Chairman Raymond Redfern said that he has received dozens of calls from residents urging him to support the licenses. The meeting takes place at 6 p.m. at 50 Payson Ave.

Riff’s Joint, an eatery in the Eastworks Building, and Popcorn Noir, a movie theater and restaurant on Cottage Street, hold seasonal licenses that allow them to serve alcohol from April 1 to Jan. 15.

On Sept. 5, the owners of both businesses asked the Licensing Board to endorse their efforts to seek year-round licenses above the city’s quota, stating that the two and a half months when they cannot serve alcohol will cause them to lose income and lay off staff.

The city’s 17 year-round licenses, provided under a state quota system that allows one license per 1,000 residents, are all in use. Individuals can seek licenses beyond that quota if they get the approval of the Licensing Board, the City Council, the mayor, the state legislature and the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission in Boston. The city has approved five such licenses in the last 12 years.

Riff’s co-owner Jeff Cahill and Popcorn Noir co-owner Kristen Davis told the Licensing Board they were pursuing the licenses based on the prior advice of board member William Sullivan. At the meeting, however, Sullivan said he did not see the public need for more licenses and that awarding more wouldn’t be fair to those who paid for the 17 existing licenses.

License holders at the meeting supported the requests, including Apollo Grill owner Casey Douglass, who got the board’s OK in April to pursue an above-quota license for a proposed restaurant on Main Street.

Board member Jason Duda said at the meeting that he supported endorsing the licenses because they would improve Easthampton’s nightlife. Sullivan and Redfern declined to vote. Redfern said he wanted to continue the hearing because he wanted to consult the city solicitor and have a fuller discussion.

“We never even got a chance to listen to what they wanted to do because there was so much yelling,” Redfern said in a telephone interview after the hearing. “I wanted to wait and hear their presentations.”

Because of the number of phone calls he received after the Sept. 5 hearing, Redfern said, he scheduled a Sept. 12 emergency meeting to discuss the licenses. The meeting was canceled a few days later when Sullivan said he would be away on vacation that week. “Bill Sullivan has something he wants to say, and I think he has a right to say it,” Redfern said at the time.

Redfern did not indicate whether he will support the licenses, but said, “There’s basically no reason we can deny them.”

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