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What Were They Thinking? Buy the Bar, Do Someone Else’s Time

trenton socialA new nomination just came in this week for the hotly contested “What Were They Thinking?” title, under the subcategory “Let’s Try to Make Trenton as Business Unfriendly as Possible.”

Trenton Social will have its liquor license suspended for 100 days over the next two years because back in 2010, before Trenton Social even existed, a former nightclub at the same location was cited for more than a dozen alcohol-control violations after a series of complaints from neighbors and several fights.

A former club, a club not owned or run by Trenton Social owner T.C. Nelson.

The owner of the former club, Roland Pott, decided to close the club, which was called Tikizia.  Trenton Social was opened by Nelson. Now, five years after the violations at the former club were reported, Nelson and Trenton Social are expected to do the time for the alleged Tikizia crimes.

Only in government and in a state with archaic liquor license regulations like New Jersey could logic be so twisted that officials think this punishment makes any sense whatsoever.

The capital city is struggling to remake itself. New businesses will play a key role in its recovery. Politicians claim that the city is ready to put out the welcome mat and roll out the red carpet for entrepreneurs who are willing to take the risk and invest in the city. Yet the city’s policies and actions often send another message.

Tikizia was closed March 19 of 2010 because of all the problems. Trenton social opened on Mach 17 of 2011, 363 days later.

It’s hard to fathom how closing the club and having the location shuttered for a year doesn’t qualify as time served.

According to the city, you don’t get a clean slate when a license transfers. As part of a settlement to avoid revocation, Nelson agreed to a 100-day suspension over a two-year period. In the first year, starting July 1, his license will be suspended for 50 Mondays and in the second year, for 50 Saturdays. He was granted an exemption on three days when events were already scheduled.

William Sitzler, the city’s special counsel for liquor license issues, made it sound like the city was being generous by letting Nelson pick the days himself and spread them over two years given his proven track record of running a good business. A business that has not racked up violations.

“No one disputes the fact that he has done great things for Trenton,” Sitzler said, adding that the city can’t drop any of the charges. His rationale? It would set a bad precedent to “whitewash” all the charges. Charges for violations committed by another business, five years ago.

Sitzler called the settlement a “balancing act” and said officials are not trying to destroy what Nelson has done.

“We have to mitigate it down to the point that some punishment is served but that we’re not going to destroy what he’s trying to do and what he has done for the city,” he said.

That’s some doublespeak.

Sitzler said without a settlement, Trenton Social risked losing its license altogether. If the city won one of the 19 hearings, the license could be revoked.

The Trenton City Council voted 4-0 to accept the settlement offer. Council members Alex Bethea and Marge Caldwell-Wilson abstained and Phyllis Holly-Ward had left early. No one questioned the logic of the settlement. No one spoke up for a vibrant city business.

Nelson plans to close on the Mondays and Saturdays when his license is suspended, because 70 percent of his sales are bar-related. The result? A thriving local business that draws people to the city will not make money one day a week. Its owner and employees will suffer for violations committed by another business five years ago. And officials will continue to wonder why business don’t move to this “business-friendly” city.

Fortunately there is still a chance that someone will step in and undo what the city has done. The case remains in litigation until an administrative law judge rules on it. The director of the state Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control must also approve the settlement.

Let’s hope the judge and the state have more common sense than city officials.

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5 comments
  • Except Roland owned the social, and the building its in for years before he transferred ownership fully to TC.

    But good on you. Rack up hundreds of violations, change your business name, give it to your brother in law, and you’re Scott free!

  • TC was not his brother-in-law until what, 2013 or 14? Was TC even dating the sister of Roland’s wife back in early 2011?

  • This is very wrong. “A city rebuilding ” and the people successfully doing so are punished for it. I’m ashamed and I know I’m not alone. It’s people like William Sitzler who need to be punished and never be a part of trenton.

  • Instead of closing the business for whatever amount of days, why not just charge the owners (current and or previous) with community service for their neighborhood which would be a win-win for everyone involved, ie, the city, the business owners and the previously affected neighbors. Have them clean up the affected block and plant some panzies for the summer.

    Mr. William Sitzler, granted you don’t want to set a bad precedent by whitewashing all the charges! You, nonetheless, want to find a win-win solution that is in the best interest of the city and the community. I continue to be amazed that Trenton Social has not yet gone out of business considering the life-span of all previous businesses at that location. They must be doing something good.

    The alcohol-control violations might have been caused by some immature individual or individuals who are not from the neighborhood, move away from the neighborhood or living in some other distant state. The resolution should be biased towards continuing to improve the quality of life in Trenton and to attract visitors to the city. Your decision to close Trenton Social would have achieved neither.

    There continue to be an on going flow of business at the arena and Trenton Social is a welcome presence to that experience. You are a very intelligent man, Mr. William Sitzler! I am certain you can arrive at a win-win resolution on this matter

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