, Newburyport, MA

January 3, 2013

Eatery's sudden closure reignites questions over liquor license

By Angeljean Chiaramida

---- — SALISBURY — The sudden closure of Hobo’s Cafe and Lounge has left the town’s Liquor Licensing Commission with a perplexing problem — what will happen to its liquor license, a license that was obtained specifically for Hobo’s through an unusual act by state lawmakers.

The popular Broadway eatery and bar was owned by Howie and Bob Fournier. It was a year-round mainstay of Salisbury Beach for 12 years, until it was seized and closed by the Essex County Sheriff’s Office last week. The seizure came after the Fourniers’ landlord, Ron Paredna, filed a civil lien against the business after months of unpaid rent.

According to Salisbury Liquor Licensing Commission Chairman Gil Mederios, the Fourniers never paid the annual $2,500 fee for their liquor license for 2013. As a result, it expired on Jan. 1. Licensees usually pay their annual licensing fee in late fall for the coming year’s use.

However, since Hobo’s license was over and above the Salisbury’s state-determined license quota, Mederios said and his fellow commissioners are uncertain if it will become available to any other business. Mederios has a call in to state authorities to find out the status of the license. He said commissioners will discuss the issue at their next meeting, scheduled for the second Thursday of this month.

There were no year-round liquor licenses available when the Fourniers opened the restaurant. The quota of 14 such permits accorded to Salisbury by the state had been filled.

Salisbury Town Meeting voters passed a measure in 2004 that instructed state Rep. Michael Costello, D-Newburyport, to intervene and file a special piece of legislation that allowed Salisbury to get two “blank” licenses.

The House panel that considers liquor-related legislation refused to endorse the bill, arguing that a specific business must be named when filing the bill. Costello said that the Hobo Cafe’s name went on the license because it had previously contacted him regarding the issue, and he was unaware of any others interested in obtaining a license.

Lawmakers passed the bill, which was signed by then-Gov. Mitt Romney. It sparked some controversy among members of the town’s Liquor Licensing Commission because they had been completely cut out of the licensing process. The board normally gets to decide which businesses get the highly coveted licenses.

Paredna is just one of the entities owed money by the restaurateurs. According to town records, the Fourniers were in arrears with their personal property tax payments to the town for the first two quarters of this tax year, equaling about $178.

Paredna, who owns Cristy’s Pizza along the same block, filed a civil lien on the Hobo’s property, resulting in the court-ordered seizure of the site through the Enforcement Unit of the Essex County Sheriff’s Office.

“They’ve owed me months and months of rent. This goes back before this summer,” Paredna said recently.

He added that he’s aware of others who are owed money by the Fourniers.

“They burned me and a lot of other innocent people,” Paredna said. “They bounced checks. People were crying.”

Hobo’s website offers a one-sentence farewell message and both the cafe’s phone and the owner’s cellphone numbers are no longer in service. No one can find the men, Paredna said, who was told they may have not only left town, but the country.