Council tables entertainment license for So. Main St. site

Council tables entertainment license for So. Main St. site

Entertainment at Woonsocket’s first Food Truck Night on May 12 was provided by the band P. Lowe. The Woonsocket City Council withheld the entertainment license for gatherings at 40 South Main St., which include Food Truck Fridays, as well as Saturday markets scheduled throughout the summer. (Breeze photo by Charles Lawrence)
Decision affects several downtown gatherings

WOONSOCKET – After two events that supporters say were successful in bringing hundreds of visitors to the city’s downtown, the Woonsocket City Council withheld the entertainment license for gatherings at 40 South Main St., which include Food Truck Fridays, and Saturday markets all summer.

The venue, owned by NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley, is still scheduled to host all of the upcoming events, but supporters say the move amounts to “chipping away” at an otherwise positive movement. The gatherings are a new feature designed to bring life to the city's downtown and must now go on without the scheduled entertainment.

The decision to table the licenses – required for hosting live entertainment – came following testimony from a longtime local restaurant owner who said the Friday night food truck events, held at the organization’s Market Square building, have been hurting his business.

“I’m not blaming anyone for this idea, but it is directly affecting all restaurants in the area, mine included,” said Gordon Robinson of Ye Olde English Fish and Chips. “I’d like to see another location for these food trucks if possible.”

The problem, according to Robinson, is parking on Friday nights, when Ye Olde English does some 60 percent of its business for the week. A staple in Woonsocket since it was first opened in 1922, the fourth-generation family business serves an array of seafood, particularly its fish and chips.

In a city that has historically boasted a large Catholic population for whom religious law calls for meat-free Fridays, lines surrounding the red brick downtown building have always been long for the start to the weekend.

Ye Olde English customers have a dedicated lot behind the building, but many utilize the city-owned lot in front. Across the road, six food trucks have brought in unique cuisines, including items like gourmet hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches, crepes and pizza, once a month for the past two months during prime restaurant hours, between 4 and 8 p.m.

“When you bring in vending trucks to an area that is solely reliant on this parking lot you hurt everyone,” Robinson told the council. “I had a complete lull between the hours of 5 and 6 o’clock, which I’ve never experienced.”

But Eric Weiner, the owner of Food Trucks In, a Rhode Island-based organization that has partnered with NeighborWorks to host the events, says the trucks can help to bring traffic to an otherwise quiet downtown.

“They’re not taking business away from the community. They’re bringing in new business,” said Weiner. “I understand anytime you produce an event that draws in 600 or 800 people, that there’ll be concerns and things that need to be worked through.”

“I think the reception we’ve gotten on Friday nights has been overwhelmingly positive,” Weiner added.

The impact on local businesses is not the only controversy surrounding the food trucks. Alcohol was served at the first Food Truck Friday held on May 12 without proper city permitting, a problem organizers say happened unintentionally. Ciro’s Tavern provided the beverages, and could have done so legally with the proper catering license according to city officials, but the Cherry Street restaurant did not hold such a license. The incident has led the council to schedule a liquor hearing on the establishment, currently scheduled for June 26.

“Ciro’s didn’t realize they didn’t have the right permits,” said Margaux Morisseau, director of community engagement for NeighborWorks. “They thought they were covered under what they had.”

Contrary to some reports, Morisseau says they were never asked to stop selling drinks.

“Nobody asked us to shut down the bar that night so we weren’t aware that we had done something wrong,” Morisseau said.

Councilors did not directly address the incident during the vote to table NeighborWorks’ daily entertainment licenses last week, a move made by Councilor Richard Fagnant, which was seconded by Councilor James Cournoyer. City Council President Daniel Gendron said his colleagues likely want to see the outcome of the upcoming liquor hearing. Gendron, who has attended the food truck events, said he supported the move as a courtesy.

“We kind of have a standing practice that if we have individuals requesting a table for more information, we support it,” he said.

The decision has already led to the cancellation of one band, and entertainment will likely have to be called off for two upcoming Saturday events, on June 17 and 24, before the council can address the issue. The requested license also includes five dates in the months of July and August.

Meghan Rego, director of resource development and communications for NeighborWorks, noted that the entertainment for Saturday, June 10, had to be canceled at the last minute. The event, an outdoor market selling local goods, was still held, and will continue on Saturdays throughout the summer.

“That’s unfortunate for the artist not to get paid,” said Rego of the cancellation. “We are really trying to encourage people to come out to those markets, and we think having someone with a guitar or a harmonica does encourage them.”

Of the council’s decision she added, “I’ve been trying to figure out why it’s been tabled. It’s sort of stand alone. It’s unfortunate that we were not able to have that topic addressed based on other issues.”

Gendron said the council initially intended to hold Ciro’s liquor hearing at the start of June, but the meeting had to be canceled due to advertising problems. He added that the council could approve the entertainment licenses contingent on certain criteria, if such a move had support of the majority of the council at their meeting June 19.

Morisseau notes that the decision to seek the entertainment license came after the Ciro’s incident led NeighborWorks officials to look more closely at the city’s ordinances. When the events were first approved in April, the organization had not applied for an entertainment license, although the plan to host bands was discussed openly at city meetings. City code lists an exemption from the rule requiring such licenses for nonprofits, but NeighborWorks went back before the board, Morisseau said, out of abundance of caution.

“They’re very easy to misunderstand,” she said of city permit law.

For his part, Robinson asked the council to change the night of the food truck events to a Monday or Tuesday, or move them somewhere else in town, like Barry Field.

Vimala Phongsavanh, a former School Committee member who also used to work for NeighborWorks, expressed anger at the council’s decision on her Facebook page.

“After two successful Market Square Food Truck Nights in Woonsocket, City Council just voted to table future entertainment licenses for events there,” wrote Phongsavanh. “There’s a big difference between obstruction and process.”

Rego noted that when events offer entertainment, guests seem to stay longer and interact more with the community.

“We’re excited to bring entertainment and culture, and to build on what’s already going on in Woonsocket,” she said. “Whatever the council can do to help make this happen would be very welcome.”

The next Food Truck Friday is scheduled for July 7 and will include live entertainment by rock-a-billy act The Red Penny, if the license is approved.

In a note to The Breeze, former City Council President Albert Brien added his name to the list of advocates for NeighborWorks events, citing the positive work the organization has done to revitalize Market Square. The organization has invested $2.3 million in the building at 40 South Main, which previously held Mulvey’s Hardware and currently pays an annual tax bill of $67,512 on several city properties.

“Neighborworks will probably invest another $15 million at Market Square before this project is complete,” Brien said. “Are they not allowed to utilize to the full extent permitted by the zoning ordinance?”

“Let’s figure this out,” Brien wrote. “Too much is at stake if we don’t.”

Morisseau said she intends to make sure that all of the organization’s future events follow city law.

“We are happy to work with the city of Woonsocket and appreciate their support,” Morisseau said.

Comments

Restricting several major “Summer” city attractions at a CITY OWNED parking lot that services ALL of Woonsocket, rather than two local city businesses who think they have unique parking privileges of city owned property. Please, give me a break.

Unreal, several hundred visitors that come into the city, look around the Main St. area, and who may then come back to frequent these same complaining local businesses, (Ye Old English and River Falls), and to be told please, no thanks, we don’t need you outside folks here…..

Really???? Nice local business environment development..

I find it funny how these two businesses feel they are entitled to these city owned facilities which includes free maintenance, snow removal and such and somehow feel they’re ENTITLED to these parking facilities…..

And please, don’t even go there with the tax payer excuse, these restaurant tax payers pay taxes like every other business in the city that don’t have a city owned parking lot that they depend on. If you depend on these city owned parking spots for income, pay extra on your taxes per parking spot! How does that sound?

WOW, it must be nice to have a FREE parking lot for your business.

You can’t make this stuff up!

While I agree most of the time with the city council they got this one wrong. I will wait to further comment on this till they have a final vote

Just when the city is starting to feel like it's on the upswing, we have people slowing down the progress for no reason. Do the local businesses complain about the parking issues for Autumnfest? No, because it brings people to the city. This is a good thing, as a taxpaying Woonsocket homeowner who votes, I ask you to please stop discouraging good things for the city like this.

What a shame, this is a great thing for the city. Change and new idea's are needed in this city.
I enjoyed the food trucks and the entertainment very much.

Maybe they'll come to their senses and pack it up like other businesses have done. Probably pay thousands less in taxes too. The council is right, why would you want to alienate a long time established business such as this?

Maybe the people that are complaining are worried that the food trucks food is BETTER ! And the parking lots are public and belong to the City!!!!! Not the people that are complaining !