HARRISBURG – Harrisburg city officials have revoked business licenses for two Midtown neighborhood bars they want to label “nuisance bars.”
However, bar owners are fighting back in the courts to stay open.
Many loyal patrons of the Third Street Café call the establishment the “black country club.” Even neighbors like Donyae Burnett who do not frequent the corner bar acknowledge its importance to Midtown.
“It’s been here for years,” she said. “And, I know people who look at it as a local landmark.”
Recently, the City of Harrisburg announced that business licenses for both the Third Street Café and Tap Room next door would be revoked for 2016. One official said the city could fine the bars $600 for every day doors are open beyond Jan. 1.
Willie Ross said the Third Street Café is a low-income sanctuary for most people in the neighborhood. He alluded to the recent complaint that Midtown is becoming gentrified and this is the city’s latest tactic.
“Shut the bars down (that are) primarily black,” he said. “It’s telling me they focus on the black businesses.”
Earlier this year, it was reported that the city has been trying to get rid of so-called “nuisance bars” around Harrisburg. The Royal Pub in Uptown shut its doors in spring.
The Tap Room owner said he wanted more time to sell his bar before being forced to close its doors. Mayor Eric Papenfuse previously said the owner has not taken any action to sell.
Chris Wilson, attorney for Third Street Café, said the city did not follow proper procedure to deem his client a nuisance bar. He said Judge Andrew Dowling has not decided on an Oct. 9 hearing to determine if Third Street Café is a nuisance bar.
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Therefore he argues the city cannot base next year’s actions before 2015’s business license is decided upon by the judge. He filed a motion last Friday to allow the bar to remain open until a final ruling.
Bryan Cleveland has mixed feelings about the bar. He said if there is strong evidence of crime, then perhaps the bars should close. But, he also would like to see the city give black businesses an opportunity to remain open.
Cleveland said most bars in Harrisburg have some sort of crime happening around it. He said the bars could make more of an effort to deter crime.
“I would like to see the bar to stay open and just weed out the bad apples,” Cleveland said.
Wilson said the city cites nine examples of crime. He said eight of the instances were either minor harassment claims or situations that happened without any connection to the bar.
Harrisburg police said some of the claims include fights, prostitution and shootings. Police on Monday said they are investigating a shots fired call that happened outside the bar on Dec. 15.
Wilson said the surveillance video inside the bar shows no signs of fighting and that the outside surveillance cameras show a gun battle between several men coming down the street.
Ross said anytime there is a crime in the vicinity of the bar and the cameras capture it – they send the footage to police as a deterrent.
“Inside they have cameras ... on the outside they have cameras,” he said. “Anytime you do that — you try to protect the business.”
Burnett said the bar should get another opportunity to eliminate the riffraff beyond being forced to close its doors forever.
“I do see the mess that goes on with certain people,” she said. “But, that’s just certain people. They shouldn’t shut down the bar because of certain people.”