CINCINNATI — Three Cincinnati business owners face losing their liquor license after continued run-ins with police.
The public safety and governance committee heard cases Tuesday against Dive Bar in Corryville, Babe’s Cafe in Westwood and the BP gas station on Glenway. Police present at the meeting said the establishments have become a “drain” on police resources.
According to CPD Sgt. Jim Hicks, the BP gas station has had 132 calls for police services since January 1, 2021. Those calls included seven assaults as well as a double shooting that resulted in a homicide on Dec. 19. More recently, an employee was arrested for trafficking drugs inside the store.
“There was actually marijuana and drug scales at the counter, this was a few weeks ago,” Hicks said.
Both the East Price Hill Improvement Association and the West Price Hill Community Council support the objection.
“The number of assaults, the litter, the crime, the general disorder and a murder that occurred at this site, much less sales to juveniles, sales of drugs. This is a no-brainer,” said Sheila Rosenthal, president of the East Price Hill Improvement Association.
However, Chris Finney, an attorney representing the gas station, said the owners are good people committed to addressing the issues. He said the owners only just took over the location at the end of last year.
“We’re not running a drug shop, there’s nothing intentional on the part of my clients,” Finney said. “Shut down the store and you have blight and a lack of jobs and a lack of some potential stability in a very difficult neighborhood.”
The committee ultimately voted in favor of objecting the renewal of the liquor license.
Likewise, Hicks noted similar issues at Babe’s Cafe in Westwood.
“There were four controlled buys of cocaine from bartenders,” he said. “There was a shooting there in July.”
According to the city’s report, police received 39 calls for services at the bar since January 1, 2021. Circumstances ranged from reported weapons, a shooting, three fights and a heroin overdose. Bar manager Nicole Burgin asked city leaders to give her time to work with police.
“I have not been contacted by the city or the police department,” she said. “I am here to do anything I can to prevent and make things right with the city. The drug trafficking, that was a resident that I had, a tenant upstairs, he is no longer there. He’s been evicted. The other speculation of heroin overdoses, I’ve never heard.”
The committee voted in favor of objecting to the renewal of the liquor license at Babe’s Cafe.
Finally, police Sgt. Jeffrey Meister explained ongoing problems at Dive Bar on Short Vine.
“From bar fights to disorderly persons, robbery, assaults, shots fired, thefts of IDs, large crowd runs affecting the flow of traffic and a fatal overdose,” he said.
In total, Dive Bar had 114 calls for service in 2021. That’s more than double any other individual bar on Short Vine. Combined, the calls for service for five neighboring bars total 131.
Meister also attributed an Oct. 9 shooting that happened on Short Vine to a patron of Dive Bar. He said video footage from inside the bar shows the shooter carrying a gun in his waistband. That shooting happened during parents weekend at the University of Cincinnati.
The neighborhood community council supported the objection.
“We do not want to see businesses shut down, we just want them to be responsible in our community,” said Leah Holstine, secretary of the Corryville Community Council. “We just want this to be a safe area. We feel this business’s lack of responsible business ownership is having harmful effects on other business owners. It’s creating a dangerous environment.”
Attorney Edward Hastie disagreed with this characterization.
“These are not fly-by-the-night operators," said Hastie, who represents owner Joe Pedro. "This location has been owned by the family, including the property for 11 years. They have been one of the drivers of revitalization of the Corryville district. They do not just own this bar and this building. They own four other bars on Vine Street."
Hastie said the owner has been taking steps to address the issues. He noted the bar does not allow underage patrons in, the music has changed to attract calmer crowds and that the owner is working to bring police through the building to help address ways to make it safer.
“(This is a) committed and invested ownership group that wants to do things the right way,” said Hastie.
“We want to cooperate to the fullest of our ability with law enforcement, community council. It’s imperative that we cooperate because the elements that we’re seeing and the problems that are causing this are not a part of our business model,” said owner Joe Pedro.
He said losing the license would be devastating to the business.
“An objection is by no way anything that we look forward. It means livelihoods are at risk. It means we’re not able to serve our community like we want to. It’s not good,” he said.
Council voted to hold the objection for two weeks, allowing Pedro and his attorney to look into the police calls for service before making a decision.
The full city council meets Wednesday. If council votes to approve the objections, those will be passed to the Ohio Division of Liquor Control for a hearing. That division will decide to revoke the liquor license or deny the objection. If the liquor license is revoked, the establishment has opportunities to appeal that decision.
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