PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The owner of a defunct Fourth Street bar must find a way to clear up back fees on its liquor license, or the city may have to forfeit the license altogether.
Attorney Lori Robbins told the Licensing Board on Monday that her client, Willard Curtis, has suffered numerous health setbacks that have rendered him unable to reopen The Tavern, which operated for nearly 15 years at 238 Fourth St. Curtis has undergone six surgeries for cancer in the past four years, each time anticipating he would be able to get back to work running the bar, but this has not been the case.
Curtis sought a one-year extension of his license to give him more time to find a buyer for the annual all-alcohol restaurant license, but members of the Licensing Board indicated that this could not be granted because of outstanding fees currently due on the license.
"The bottom line is, you have to pay for the license, and go out into the marketplace and try to sell it," said Chairman Carmen Massimiano. Massimiano said the license has to be paid for by Dec. 31, or the city will lose that license. The $2,200 amount owed on the license has to be paid for the license to continue to stay valid, he said, before it can be sold.
"I'm inclined to try to help, I just don't know see what we can do here for you today," said Thomas Campoli. "I don't know as we have the authority to allow a license to be in existence for 2013 if you don't pay the fee."
Robbins said the statute governing the license doesn't refer to the fee, and that if the board was so inclined, Curtis could begin to make payments in installments on the past due amount.
"Everybody would come in here and say 'I had a bad year, and I can't afford to do that,' and I don't think the ABCC would allow it, however, I suppose we could check," said Massimiano. "I'm not in favor of this."
City Solicitor Kathleen Degnan concurred with the board's interpretation of the law on this issue.
"In order to have the license, you have to pay the money," said Degnan. "You can't sell what you don't have."
The Tavern has been closed since spring 2010, and had previously been closed from 2008 to the summer of 2009, while the owner had been battling health issues. Curtis opened the establishment in 1995, largely without issue until it came before the Licensing Board for complaints in 2005 and 2006, after which the board had mandated the bar close two hours earlier to avoid further problems.
In September, Curtis had indicated that he was still hoping to reopen the business, potentially with a new partner at a new location, but this has not worked out.
"I've given up that idea," said Curtis. "I refinanced my house to reopen, but I got sick again."
"I very much would like to see this resolved. This is not the way to resolve it," said Massimiano. "I think what has to be done, is that everything has to be in order, then you can sell the license."
Massimiano expressed hopes that perhaps someone could lend Curtis the $2,200 needed against the "bankable asset" of the license itself, allowing it to stay within the city.
"I don't know what you're asking for the license, but I would think that at a distressed price, it would get you something, if you put an ad in the paper," said board member Robert Quattrochi.
"And it may just be that from being at this meeting today, that certain people who would be interested in the potential license are going to find this out in a very public way that doesn't cost you anything, and you may start getting calls by the end of the week," said board member Dana Doyle.
The board said Curtis does not need to sell the license by the end of this month, just to secure the funds to pay the back balance allowing him to hold onto the license long enough to enable that sale.
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