EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 10, 2014

Selectmen unhappy with Sad Cafe

Selectmen likely to vote Monday

By Alex Lippa
alippa@eagletribune.com

---- — PLAISTOW — Selectmen may eliminate all town funding from the struggling Sad Cafe. They plan to vote on the topic Monday and it appears they have the votes to cut the money.

“We are worried that current board members are going in a direction which isn’t what the Sad Cafe was designed to be,” Selectman Daniel Poliquin said.

The Sad Cafe, a nonprofit group on Plaistow Road, is touted as a substance-free space for local musicians to perform. Plaistow has budgeted $5,000 for the organization in each of the last several years. But that may be over.

The cafe has encountered financial difficulties several times since opening in 1999.

Eric Robinson, who serves on the Sad Cafe’s Board of Directors, appeared before selectmen on Dec. 30 and asked for funding. Robinson the organization was thousands of dollars behind on its rent.

“The next two months are going to be very difficult on us,” Robinson said at the meeting.

Selectmen voted whether to continue funding, but deadlocked. Selectmen Joyce Ingerson and Michelle Curran voted to completely cut funding. Selectmen Robert Gray and John Sherman voted to reduce it to $1,000. Poliquin was not present at the meeting.

It will be discussed again Monday and Poliquin said he was in favor of eliminating funding.

“I just don’t want to give money to something which may not be in existence in three to six months,” Poliquin said.

Robinson told selectmen organizers were thinking of expanding programs to include an adults night. At those events, admission would be limited to those ages 21 and over, and people would be allowed to bring their own beer.

That proposal is a main reason why Ingerson said she opposed continued funding.

“I think it’s wonderful they want to provide for young aspiring musicians,” Ingerson said. “But the original mission’s intent is no longer. The very mention of possible (bring your own beer) changed this.”

But Robinson said it’s only an idea now.

“We’ve discussed it,” he said. “But it’s not something we’ve pursued at this point.”

There was a recent incident involving alcohol, he said.

“We have picked up beer cans outside when there was an older crowd about two months ago,” Robinson said. “Alcohol and drugs are not tolerated inside and outside the building. We cleaned it up and threw, it away and told the band that they would not be invited back.”

Gray said he wanted to make sure Plaistow residents were getting the most out of the money, if the town decided to continue funding.

“You have a business requesting money from a local government where it’s unclear if the money goes to support our residents directly or if the money is being used to subsidize the business itself,” Gray said.

Robinson said the money would be used to help pay staff members and support future projects.

Gray also noted a leadership change. Several members of the board of directors resigned in September.

“The changeover in staff is of some concern,” Gray said. “Whenever local government appropriates money to donate, you want to make sure there is stability within that organization. You don’t want to donate money in March and have the business go out of business in April.”

The Sad Cafe’s annual budget is around $50,000, funded through donations and admission revenue.