By Shawn Regan
---- — HAVERHILL — Ivan Yee said his Chinese food restaurant generates up to $1,000 in sales in the final hour it is allowed to be open early Saturday morning — from 1 to 2 a.m.
He might soon lose that income, however, under a proposal being considered by the city’s License Commission to roll back the Friday-night-into-Saturday morning closing time for restaurants and bars from 2 a.m. to 1 a.m.
That is the only day of the week restaurants and bars are allowed to remain open to 2 a.m. The Police Department supports the earlier closing time.
“We have to dedicate a lot of our resources to downtown at that time (2 a.m. when bars close) and it causes problems for us,” Lt. Robert Pistone said. “Everyone seems to head downtown (early Saturday morning) for that last call, including a lot of people from other communities.”
Yee said people tend to go out later and stay out longer on Friday night because Friday is a work day.
“We keep the kitchen open until 2 a.m. and we do pretty good on food sales in addition to alcohol,” Yee said of his Oriental Garden restaurant in Westgate Plaza.
“I’d definitely like to see closing time remain 2 (a.m.), but I trust their judgement,” he said of the License Commission.
The commission will hold a public hearing Thursday at 6 p.m. at City Hall to get input from residents and business owners before deciding on the change. The commission is expected to vote after the hearing.
“I’m not sure how I’ll vote yet,” said Joseph Edwards, a lawyer and the commission’s chairman. “But I’d like police and the business owners to come in and give us their thoughts.”
In 2006, the commission voted that all bars and restaurants in the city must close by 1 a.m., except Saturday mornings, in response to a rash of late-night trouble, including fights, vandalism and noise that bothered people who live in downtown apartments and condos. The change came as city officials began encouraging more residential housing downtown.
At the commission’s request, police are expected to provide data at Thursday’s hearing which compares crimes that occur at closing time Saturday mornings with crimes that occur at closing time on other nights.
Sven Amirian, president of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce, said he would rather see the city target restaurants and bars that are causing problems instead of taking “a global step” that hurts businesses which aren’t causing problems and rely on income from the additional hour.
“We pride ourselves on having a vibrant restaurant district, but it’s hard for many of these places to remain profitable over time,” Amirian said, noting that restaurants and nightclubs have a history of coming and going frequently in the downtown area.
As an example, he noted that a second eatery Yee opened last year on Washington Street, Og2, recently closed. Yee has said he isn’t sure when or if he will reopen a restaurant at that location.
Mayor James Fiorentini, who appoints members to the License Commission, did not return calls and emails seeking his position or comment on the proposed rollback of Friday-night-into-Saturday morning hours.
The proposal to trim an hour off Saturday morning drinking follows the commission’s vote earlier this month to support a measure that would allow restaurants with liquor licenses to start serving alcohol at 10 a.m. on Sunday. Restaurants are currently prohibited from selling alcohol on Sunday until noon, unless their host community passes the local-option law allowed by the state. This measure, which is designed to give a financial boost to restaurants that serve Sunday brunch, must be approved by City Council and then the state Legislature before it can go into effect.
If the local-option law is adopted by Haverhill, individual restaurants could then apply to the License Commission for the Sunday morning brunch hours. The commission would decide requests on a case-by-case basis. In a recent survey by The Eagle-Tribune, five of nine councilors said they support the Sunday brunch alcohol hours.