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No liquor license for Iron Horse owners until seller Eric Suher is in 'good standing' with state

The new owners of the Iron Horse are hiring for nearly every job position, to reopen in the middle of May. But The Parlor Room Collective learned February 20, 2024, that the business will not be able to receive an all-alcohol beverage license until previous owner Eric Suher of Iron Horse Ventures receives clearance from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue for any taxes owed, and clearance for any fees he may owe to the state Department of Unemployment. Suher has said it is "still going to be quite some time" before he receives the certificate of good standing from the state.
Courtesy
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Lily Harris
The new owners of the Iron Horse are hiring for nearly every job position, to reopen in the middle of May. But The Parlor Room Collective learned February 20, 2024, that the business will not be able to receive an all-alcohol beverage license until previous owner Eric Suher of Iron Horse Ventures receives clearance from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue for any taxes owed, and clearance for any fees he may owe to the state Department of Unemployment. Suher has said it is "still going to be quite some time" before he receives the certificate of good standing from the state.

Up until a few days ago, it appeared that Northampton, Massachusetts, officials had figured out a way to get all-alcoholic beverage licenses to at least one and maybe two entertainment venues — increasing profits and bringing back important nightlife to the city.

But in order for the new owners of the Iron Horse Music Hall to obtain that license, the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC) said the buyers, the Parlor Room, Inc., must submit state certificates showing the seller, Iron Horse Ventures owner Eric Suher, is in good standing with the state.

Suher told Northampton city officials last week he is still working on his filings to the state, "so that there is still no certificate and that from my understanding, it's still going to be quite some time" Suher added that the onus was on him, not the state.

Even though the Parlor Room is not applying for a beverage license previously owned by Suher, the ABCC said because the Parlor Room bought assets from Suher's company, his taxes have to be cleared.

This came as a surprise to the Northampton License Commission last week, but ABCC officials said the state has long conducted Dual Condition Reviews between agencies. It is the norm for the buyer of a business applying for a new liquor license to provide Department of Revenue and Department of Unemployment certificates of good standing regarding the seller.

The Northampton License Commission learned about the ABCC decision just a few hours before its meeting on Wednesday.

Surprising news

"I got a call from the ABCC saying that because ... the Parlor Room purchased assets from Iron Horse Ventures, which is the entity that previously held the license, [the Parlor Room] still needs to provide a DOR certificate and a DUA Certificate [for Suher as part of its application]," the city's Administration, Licensing and Economic Development Coordinator Annie Lesko announced at the meeting.

Suher appeared to be present at the virtual meeting Wednesday, as his name appeared on the video platform, but he did not ask to speak.

"It's pretty awful news and really just distressing," said Natasha Yakovlev, the chair of Northampton's License Commission.

Lesko had never heard of a requirement like this on a new license, she said, and added that the state investigator who reviewed the Parlor Room's license application told Lesko she confirmed her findings with ABCC's executive director, Ralph Sacramone.

"So everything's just come to a screeching halt again," Commissioner Helen Kahn said. "You're saying the Iron Horse will not be allowed to serve alcohol unless Eric gets this certificate from the DOR?"

Lesko confirmed that.

The ABCC on Friday said the situation with the Parlor Room is unfortunate and they understand the license is tied to the city's economic development, but the taxes still need to be paid. The application was not rejected, the ABCC said. It was given back to Northampton officials as RNA or "Returned No Action."

The Iron Horse, under the Parlor Room Collective, is expected to open in May, with a full calendar of concerts. New employees are being hired and the building is under renovation.

In the restaurant and entertainment industry, an all-alcohol beverage license greatly adds to profit margins, but if it has to, the Iron Horse will open without the license, the Parlor Room's Chris Freeman said Monday. But having the license, he said, will allow the organization to do more in the community.

"We expect alcohol sales to fund our educational programs. We expect alcohol sales to make sure that we can offer better deals to artists," Freeman said. "Without having these kind of side revenue streams — like, if all the money is coming just from ticket sales — the artist winds up getting squeezed."

Not only does he want to pay artists well and make the shows accessible to a wider audience, Freeman said he wants to bring as many people as possible into downtown Northampton — especially at night.

"To go to the restaurants and shop at retail stores and stay out later," Freeman said. "[Some stores] used to be open two hours later, back when The Calvin [Theater] and the Iron Horse [were ] at its peak, and alcohol is an important part of of nightlife."

Parlor Room Collective will "roll with it," Freeman said, noting the organization's lawyer has contacted the ABCC.

Will The Calvin face same license challenges?

The Calvin Theater, also owned by Suher, is one of the city's largest entertainment venues. Late last year, Suher announced he was in negotiations to sell the venue to two well-established concert promoters. The group includes Jim Glancy, a former top official at Live Nation New York and now a partner at The Bowery Presents, and Alex Crothers, who produces the Solid Sound Festival at MASS MoCA, among other events.

The buyers' attorney, Kristin Scanlon, was at the February 21 meeting to update the commission on lease negotiations.

After hearing the application update for the Iron Horse, Scanlon questioned if in applying for a new all-alcohol beverage license at The Calvin, the new owners would need the same certificates of good standing.

She also asked if whether when applying for an all-alcoholic license to the ABCC, the Parlor Room included their purchase-and-sale agreement with Suher and Iron Horse Ventures, dated September 2023. It may have been unnecessary, Scanlon said.

The ABCC confirmed the purchase-and-sale agreement was included in the application.

"The ABCC has obviously seen stuff like this before," Scanlon said. "Who do we need to talk to up there to assist?" adding she would be happy to help the Northampton License commission.

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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