PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Licensing Board has suspended the license of Proprietor's Lodge after it hosted a wedding in July that drew almost 120 people.
The board voted 3-2 Monday to suspend the alcohol license from Aug. 30 to Sep. 5 because the wedding was not in compliance with Gov. Charlie Baker's pandemic orders.
"There is evidence that the licensee violated Governor Baker's order No. 44; there is also evidence that the licensee essentially admitted that," Chairman Thomas Campoli said. "I don't believe Proprietor's is taking this seriously."
Lodge owner Eric Taylor told the board that 250 people originally were expected to attend the July 31 wedding. He said the lodge worked with the family to bring this number down to what they thought was an acceptable amount.
That number was 125 attendees but on the actual day of the wedding only 118 showed up, he said. During dinner, 93 were seated outside and 25 inside.
Senior Sanitarian Andy Cambi said he was alerted of the violation and contacted the establishment. He said he issued a notice and explained to management that, per the governor's order, the max number of people allowed in an enclosed area is 25. The max number of people that can be outside is 100.
Cambi said these numbers cannot be combined. He said if they held two separate events, one inside and one outside, there would be no violation because attendees would not be intermingling.
He added that this bottom line of 118 did not include the 10 to 12 staff at the wedding.
Cambi said there were other issues such as no mask enforcement, no social distancing enforcement, and there was a dance floor.
Taylor said the order was not clear that staff had to count, and he noted kitchen staff never really mingled with the public. He also was not aware of the need to separate the indoor and outdoor gatherings and felt this too was unclear.
He went on to say that his staff made sure the wedding was safe and supplied masks and signage that notified attendees of social distancing and mask protocols. Families were seated together and spread out.
"We went above and beyond and we closed the restaurant to the public," Taylor said. "We wanted to give the wedding more room for social distancing ... we thought we were in compliance."
Manager Candice Lyon said attendees were only allowed to take their masks off while eating and she did her best to enforce this.
"It is really important to me, and my staff is really important to me," she said. "Three of my daughters were there, so I really do try to make them safe."
Taylor said the wedding party and priest had their temperatures taken and had received COVID-19 tests. Also, they met before the guests showed up for photos.
As for the dance floor, Taylor admitted there was a DJ but there was no established dance floor. Spouses and family members danced together and people danced alone.
Lyon said some of the photos of people dancing are misleading.
Campoli added that the Proprietor's Lodge is only allowed amplified music during wedding ceremonies.
Taylor said there was only one out-of-town guest.
Also, he contacted the wedding party after and was told there were no cases of COVID-19 among the guests.
"We must have done something right," he said.
The Licensing Board first noted that in May it granted Taylor extended hours to allow him to serve on the lodge's patios and decks during the summer. Campoli said they threw him a "financial lifeline" to help the restaurant during the pandemic.
At that meeting in May, Taylor indicated that he only planned to hold one wedding because all others were canceled. Campoli reminded him that he pledged to social distancing standards.
The board was given photos of the event taken during the wedding, and board member Kathleen Amuso said it was clear that not everyone was wearing a mask or social distancing.
"As an owner, you have a responsibility to make sure they are in compliance," she said. "From what I have seen, you were not in compliance."
The photos were supplied by neighbors, but the board also had photos they said were directly from Proprietor's Lodge's social media accounts.
Taylor said he could not force people to wear masks because they may have some underlying condition. He felt all he could do was post the guidelines around the facility.
Amuso didn't buy it.
"This is serious," she said. "This is about people's lives. You are putting your staff in danger."
Campoli added that the governor's orders are not guidelines.
"These are not guidelines. It is the law that has come down from the governor in response to a health crisis in which people have died," he said. "It is not enough to just have some masks out there and hope people pick them up. This is on your premises ... you had one shot at a wedding here."
The other concern was the bus that moved people from the wedding to their hotels. Taylor said he thought nearly 70 percent of people wore masks on the bus. Lyon thought it was closer to 90 percent.
Board member Dina Guiel Lampiasi said she was glad that the Proprietor's Lodge seemed to be taking the situation more seriously but felt instances like this truly put the city in danger.
She added that it was important for the board to take some action so other businesses know the orders mater.
"This is about sending a message out to other businesses in Pittsfield to know that we are not playing," she said. "If they break the rules it is going to come back around. This is how the pandemic is getting ramped up again. People are getting lax."
The relationship between the lodge and the neighborhood has never been good, and the Proprietor's Lodge has been before the board a few times to answer to complaints. The board has put restrictions on the lodge in the past and Taylor is actually slated to come before the board again next month to discuss a different concern.
Dozens of neighbors attended past meetings, and this was the case Monday. Neighbors called in recalling the wedding. They shared their concerns about out of state license plates in the parking lot, noise, and attendees dispersing throughout the city.
Some asked that the lodge's hours be reduced and its license suspended or revoked altogether.
One caller, who attended the wedding, backed up much of what the lodge management said and said she felt very safe at the wedding.
Amuso first motioned to reduce the Proprietor's Lodge's hours, but this did not receive a second. Campoli noted that that the lodge did not violate its licensing hours.
The second motion was to suspend the license. This passed 3-2. Board members Dennis Powell and Richard Stockwell were in opposition. Stockwell said he preferred that they held the suspension in abeyance and act upon it if an issue arises again.
Taylor dropped out of the meeting for some time and asked to make an appeal at the close of the meeting. He added before closing that he was being made an example of and was allowed to have cars from different states in his parking lot, specifically from those states without a travel ban.
He also said the neighbors, many who called in, had their own party in the neighborhood this summer.
Campoli told Taylor to stop interrupting and said "the ship had sailed." The board then closed its meeting.
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PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Christine Arace, Certified Public Accountant has joined the accounting firm of Fenton Quinn, PC as partner.
Arace has over 25 years of experience, most recently at Furlano & Arace, PC before her transition to Fenton Quinn, PC.
As a lifelong resident of the area, she is well-regarded by both her clients and peers. Arace is licensed in Massachusetts. Her skills include financial statement preparation, business, personal, trust and non-profit income tax preparation, assistance with non-profits, consulting and controller activities.
She is a member of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants and the Massachusetts Society of CPAs. She received her accounting degree from Elms College and has been a licensed CPA since 1998. Arace presently serves on the Board at Mount Carmel Care Center and is Treasurer of Blythewood Associates, Inc.
She lives in Pittsfield with her husband, Michael and their son and daughter.
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