Nate Girard explains his predicament to the Selectmen on Wednesday.
ADAMS, Mass. — Nate Girard and his longtime friend Erik Pizani decided to buy the Saint Stanislaus Kostka Hall in 2012. The property had a rich history in town and most people had memories of bowling, playing pitch, attending a wedding, or just sitting at an old red leather stool and enjoying a cheap beer.
The two partners, along with another investor, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars bringing the structure up to code and restoring the bar and kitchen. The Adams Ale House was born. Both of them ran the restaurant, bought houses, had kids, went into real estate together, and celebrated the boom and even the bust times.
Pizani eventually left the restaurant business and left Girard as the sole owner of the building. Girard decided to lease the restaurant space to focus solely on real estate and his young family. The new operators didn't last long in a tough restaurant market and went out of business in December 2018.
The building on East Hoosac Street has sat unused since then. Girard has it listed it on several sources and is still hopeful he can find a taker. The idle liquor license he still holds, however, has become an issue for the town.
That has the Board of Selectmen in a bind on whether to revoke the license or not. On Wednesday, the members decided not.
"After a certain amount of time, the state frowns on the local licensing authority letting the liquor license go unused," said Town Counsel Edmund St. John III. "The ABCC [Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission] calls it a 'pocket' license. It's a term used to describe a license that hasn't been used, in this case, in 10 months. The ABCC sends a memo saying you can't have these licenses sitting out there and not being used because they are for public benefit. It's basically sitting in Mr. Girard's pocket."
Girard has turned over every rock to lease or sell the building. Even offering some generous concessions in the process.
"There is nobody in this town that wants that place open more than me. I am willing to forego a lease payment. I'd collect zero dollars as long as someone else operates the business and takes over the expenses on the building," he said. "Just to see it happen with somebody that could make it work."
After his tenants closed the restaurant in 2018, Girard thought he found a new potential lessee.
"Right away I actually found a quality tenant. I thought I was going to come right back to [the board] but the tenant who was there put up a huge battle basically telling me I could not break the lease," he said. "They did show good faith and settled all their bills they hadn't paid in hopes of getting back open. After about two months, it just didn't happen. When I approached the potential new tenant they had already found a different space."
Girard said a big problem in leasing the space is people's unrealistic expectations of what it takes to successfully run a restaurant.
"I've met with no less than a dozen interested parties. None of them have restaurant experience. There are a lot of people who want to be in this business but the reality is you need a lot of money to be in the business," he said. "Upfront food cost, you need payroll, it costs me money every year to buy liquor liability insurance to hold onto the license. I have it aggressively marketed.
"I'm just waiting for a good tenant."
The liquor license itself is unique as it was granted by special legislation, first through town meeting then approval by the state. The way the legislation was written and approved ties the license to that specific structure on Hoosac Street.
"This license was created by special legislation and it pertains to that premises on East Hoosac Street and nowhere else," St. John elaborated. "The license cannot be transferred to another location."
That situation might have contributed to the board's decision. Selectman John Duval saw no benefit for the town to revoke the license.
"What does the town gain by taking his license? It can only be used in that building and he owns the building. It may help him in getting a restaurant moving," he said.
Town Administrator Jay Green sees a revocation as a six of one, half dozen of the other situation.
"It seems like semantics. The liquor license can only go to that property. If we take it just to give it back to the same building all we are doing is pushing around the bureaucratic paperwork," he said. "From my perspective, I'd rather have Mr. Girard say, 'I have a liquor license and you just need to apply for a transfer' to someone. I'm looking to empower our business and property owners, I don't see the benefit [of pulling the license]."
Selectman Joseph Nowak wanted to make sure the ABCC would be satisfied with the board's effort.
"I think what [revoking the license] does do is it puts us in better faith with the state with taking the pocket license. If we don't, the state might frown on it," he said.
Green said he feels just going through the hearing Wednesday is doing due diligence enough to show the ABCC that they take pocket licenses, and the board's role as the local licensing authority, seriously.
There was no action taken and Girard kept his license, for now. He agreed to come back to update the board on his progress.
In other business, the board said a portion of the Memorial School will be getting a new heating and air conditioning system thanks to a Community Development Block Grant. That good news was tempered a bit as some organizations that currently use the building will be displaced during the construction.
"Putting this on the agenda today would allow us to be in touch with groups earlier to let them know that the school would not be available for the winter months," Chairwoman Christine Hoyt said. "A concerned citizen was disappointed that we would be shutting the building down for the winter but was understanding that this was needed for the future of the building."
The work will mostly be in the gym and surrounding areas and will include rooftop HVAC units and all new ductwork. The board decided to restrict access to the building starting Nov. 1.
Aaron Dean's hiring as the new Hoosac Valley superintendent of schools has opened up a seat on the McCann School Committee. Anyone interested in filling the vacancy can apply at Town Hall. The term will only last until May, when an election will be held to fill the seat.
"It's a good opportunity if you're thinking about it to get a little trial period," said Selectman Richard Blanchard.
Both the Selectmen and the McCann School Committee have to vote on the temporary appointment.
Hoyt said the Hoosac Valley Elementary School will be undergoing some more renovations.
"EDM (engineers/architects) are contracted to do a full building evaluation. Right now they are putting together a bid package for gutters and some panels that need repair. We replaced the flooring in the student side of the cafeteria but the kitchen still needs replacing," she said. "We are going to wait until the whole evaluation is done to see what the cost is."
The town had set aside $235,000 for repairs at the school a few years ago and it has used about $45,000 so far. The school district has also funded repairs the air conditioning and the chimney.
Green is encouraged by the cooperation between the two entities.
"We have a great relationship with the custodian over there. He's doing a great job. We are building a good team to try to keep up that building," he said.
Nowak wants to keep the improvements funded and thinks the town is wise to make it happen.
"We've put our money where our mouth is as far as giving money. We made a promise to continue to fund repairs at the elementary school and I think we've kept our word," he said. "I believe it's money well spent because it's our building. In time should the school not be warranted we'll have a building we can be proud of and market."
Duval said the paving and reconstruction of Commercial Street is still on target for 2020. The project will completely overhaul the road and structures from the Grove Street Bridge to McDonalds.
Lastly Christine Hoyt announced another information session for a 40R overlay district. It will be at the Community Center on Tuesday, Oct. 22, at 6 p.m.
As a reminder, trick-or-treat hours will be Thursday, Oct. 31, from 5:30-7 p.m. so please drive carefully.
The next regular meeting of the Board of Selectmen will be at 7 p.m. on Nov. 6.
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