Above: Executive Cigars owner Andrew Lee explains his plans for the business to the community.
Andrew Lee wants a second chance to run his shop, Executive Cigars, in Historic Deutschtown, but after eight months of problematic late-night parties, neighborhood residents aren’t keen to give him another shot.
Lee and City Council President Darlene Harris hosted a community meeting in Bistro-To-Go’s annex on Tuesday night, though little compromise was met between neighbors, Lee, the East Allegheny Community Council and Zone 1 police officers after two hours of discussion moderated by Harris.
While Executive Cigars has been in business for three years on Suismon Street, in August of last year late-night parties on the second floor of the building began creating disturbances that have neighbors and the East Allegheny Community Council concerned.
Fights and a December 2011 shooting where over 20 bullets were fired with a Mac11 by individuals leaving the building added additional concern for public safety to neighbors’ complaints of noise disturbances and parking problems.
Lee said that he was renting the second floor of the shop to a young man who was running an illegal afterhours club, but has since terminated the lease and believes the problems are over.
Lee said he had no involvement with the afterhours party and that patrons of his shop are professionals all over the age of 48 and of the “highest caliber.”
“Our customers are not your enemies,” said Lee. “I would love to move on from this with this community…We can be good neighbors.”
Last month, Lee applied to the zoning board to extend his shop hours until 2 a.m. and permit members of his club to bring alcohol onto the premise for parties or events.
At his zoning hearing at 10 a.m. on April 19, 30 Deutschtown residents showed up for the hearing as well as Lee. The hearing was delayed until May 10 in the hopes that the two parties could come to an agreement outside of court, which prompted Lee to arrange Tuesday’s meeting.
Residents feared that the extended hours and permitting members and private parties to bring to alcoholic in the shop would recreate the noise and safety problems.
“For eight months, our lives were hell from Friday at 2 a.m. to Saturday at 6 a.m.,” said Deutschtown resident Scott Parker. “You had your chance and you lost it…I don’t even support him having a cigar shop in my neighborhood.
EACC Treasurer Ed Graf called the activities “a killer for the neighborhood,” and said he regretted writing a letter of support for Lee when the shop first opened in 2009.
Andrew Lee started Tuesday’s meeting by explaining his plans and past problems at Executive Cigars.
Lee plans to extend his shop’s hours to accommodate patrons who finish work late and permit them to bring and drink alcohol on the premise. He also plans to rent out the second floor private parties such as showers, fundraisers and birthday parties that will not be ongoing.
He plans to screen the parties and does not anticipate any problems arising. He said he had no association with the parties in the upstairs part of his shop, and he regretted the mistakes that had been made with his past renter.
“I never, ever liked that function and did not party there,” said Lee who noted the upstairs late-night parties cost him money in legal fees and citations. “I can’t even tell you how much in the negative I am on this function.”
After Lee, Commander RaShall Brackney then spoke to police’s response and involvement with the problem and stated that she believed Lee was more involved with the club than he led the audience to believe.
“I believe that he has a great amount of knowledge of what happens there and that it will continue,” said Brackney who noted that Lee was on site one of the times authorities were called.
Lee’s lease with upstairs lessee states that there must be one Executive Cigars employee on site during rental hours and that there will be no access to the first floor.
Brackney noted that there have been over 50 311 calls made regarding ongoing, problematic activities in the building and they were issued nine citations over the eight months the afterhours club occurred. She added that when the fire department took a headcount one night, there were roughly 200 individuals in the upstairs space.
Lee denied this, stating that 200 people would not fit upstairs and that the citations amounted to harassment. He accused Commander Brackney of having a personal grudge against him and abusing her power and authority, which she denied.
Darlene Harris then read a list of concerns the community had about the proposed hours and alcohol policy changes for Lee to address.
Residents’ questions addressed the new hours, alcohol policies, average number of guests, parking issues, screening renters and how Lee intended to enforce club rules.
Lee responded that the upstairs would close at 2 a.m. and the downstairs would close at 3 a.m. Members would be permitted to bring and drink their own alcohol on site. He said the average number of guests would be 30-70 upstairs and 30 downstairs at max.
He said he intends to screen parties renting the space carefully, and that renters did not need to be members of his club but must be over 30 years old.
Lee does not anticipate problems with parking or enforcing club rules.
Several Executive Cigar club members were in attendance to speak on the club’s behalf.
Club member Leonard Pinkney said that as a nondrinker, he often moderates the drinking of other club members and ensures they do not drive drunk. He said there have only been two occasions in his experience where a member was unable to drive home, and he acted as the designated driver.
Another member noted that Lee runs a “great place” and asked the community to give him a second chance.
The rescheduled zoning board hearing for Executive Cigars will take place on May 10 Downtown.