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Eric Suher loses two more liquor licenses, and so does Northampton

 The Northampton Box Office had been Iron Horse Entertainment Group's ticketing headquarters, owned by Eric Suher.
Ellery Berenger
/
NEPM
The Northampton Box Office had been Iron Horse Entertainment Group's ticketing headquarters, owned by Eric Suher.

Officials in Northampton, Massachusetts, have canceled two liquor licenses held by Eric Suher, former owner of the Iron Horse Music Hall, The Calvin Theater and several other entertainment venues.

Suher had previously struck deals to sell a license to the Parlor Room nonprofit that will soon operate the Iron Horse Music Hall, and another license to the owners of the Gombo Oyster Bar.

But on Tuesday night, at the first Northampton License Commission meeting of 2024, Suher said he had still not obtained a state certificate that would have allowed him to transfer the licenses.

License Commissioner Helen Kahn said Suher fell down of his side of the deal and the economic ripple effects for the city are large.

"Because of the delay of these transfers, it's not only impacted the Iron Horse and Gombo, but its also impacted ... other restaurants," Kahn said.

Almost a year ago, city officials canceled the liquor license Suher owned for the Pearl Street Night Club. Then, they gave him until June 1, 2023, to demonstrate several other establishments would be open for business. Otherwise, he could potentially lose those liquor licenses.

At that time, commission chairperson Natasha Yakovlev said restaurants in Northampton were lining up for the permits when they become available.

"In the past, when we have had lotteries, I've seen eight restaurants come forward for it, so there's definitely a demand," Yakovlev said last February, confirming that liquor licenses can also be sold by the owner on the open market, sometimes for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Commissioners then gave Suher a continuance in October 2023, allowing him more time to obtain needed documents. But Tuesday night, they declined to give him another extension — and canceled the licenses intended for the Iron Horse and Gombo Oyster Bar.

It is a loss, commissioners said, as Northampton cannot reissue them to other businesses because of liquor license limits imposed by the state of Massachusetts. The quota for these highly sought-after all-alcoholic beverage licenses is based on the population of the community.

Last November, through special legislation, Massachusetts lawmakers granted Northampton seven additional all-alcoholic beverage licenses, specifically for four businesses — Jake's, The Teapot, The Dirty Truth and a not-yet-built Hilton-brand hotel.

Many restaurants in Northampton were hoping to win one of the remaining three licenses in a lottery. Now that's down to two.

That's because commissioners on Tuesday night voted to give one of the recently acquired licenses to the new Iron Horse operators who had been waiting for a license from Suher.

That decision was made with an eye to reopening the venue — largely shuttered since the start of the pandemic — and bringing music fans back to Northampton.

To get a license, Gombo would need to enter the lottery, along with other restaurants. Officials justified the different treatment of the Iron Horse and Gombo by saying all downtown businesses could benefit from the increase in visitors to the music venue.

It is possible, commissioners said last night, that the city could face a similar situation with the license Suher plans to include in his sale of the Calvin Theater, among the largest venues in the city. Suher faced a Wednesday deadline to submit that documentation to the city.

"We do need [the same state] certificate for that one," Annie Lesko, Northampton's administration, licensing and economic development coordinator, said Tuesday night. "But it's also the whole package. Like, there's not even a transfer. The deadline's [Wednesday]. I don't know what's going to happen."

With that, the commissioners decided to put off distributing the last two available all-alcoholic beverage licenses until their February meeting.

Jill Kaufman has been a reporter and host at NEPM since 2005. Before that she spent 10 years at WBUR in Boston, producing "The Connection" with Christopher Lydon and on "Morning Edition" reporting and hosting. She's also hosted NHPR's daily talk show "The Exhange" and was an editor at PRX's "The World."
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