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Rowdy Partying Riles Neighbors

Nightclubs, Bars Blamed For A Climate Of Noise, Vandalism

May 27, 2005
By MATT BURGARD, Courant Staff Writer

The frustration for Sharon Lewis and her neighbors has been building so long and so steadily that when it came time for them to vent Thursday night, they held nothing back.

"I'm sorry I'm so emotional about this, but if I have to put up with this for one more summer, I'm either going to be dead or in jail," said Lewis, referring to the noise, trash and vandalism that she said stems from the nightclubs that have popped up in her Hartford neighborhood. "We cannot live like this another day longer."

Lewis said when she was growing up near Tower Avenue and Main Street, it was a genteel place where well-to-do, educated black professionals settled into nicely manicured houses on quiet, tree-lined streets.

But in recent years, she said, the neighborhood has been besieged by rowdy partiers who tie up traffic and keep the music pumping at all hours at a growing number of social clubs and bars on Tower Avenue.

After years of trying to have the issue addressed through private correspondence and phone calls to the city's movers and shakers, Lewis and her newly formed group, Hartford Citizens in Action, brought the issue into the public spotlight at a forum at the Union Baptist Church on Main Street Thursday.

"It's too bad it had to come to this to get anyone's attention," she said as most of the audience of about 50 residents applauded.

Those who did not cheer Lewis' words came to respond to the criticism her group has aimed at the West Indian Social Club, a club that has been the focal point for many social and civic activities for more than three decades.

While Lewis and other residents said the club has contributed to an out-of-control atmosphere of late-night partying, noise and lawlessness, longtime club members pointed to their record of community involvement.

"We care about the community every bit as much as you do," said Hugh Freeney, the president of the club. "We have offered hundreds of scholarships to young people in our community, many of whom would not have been able to go to college without our assistance. If the problems you are talking about are really coming from our club, we will address it. But we are not the source of these problems."

Instead, club owners such as Earnest P. James, who has owned the Main and Tower Cafe for more than 30 years, said the business owners can't be blamed for rowdy young people.

"The kids nowadays are totally out of control, and that's because no one has raised them right," he said. "To be honest with you, I'm scared of these kids. They're crazy, they're violent and they're dangerous, and I don't want any part of them. But it's not our fault they've gotten this way."

One man was shot and killed inside a club in the neighborhood and another was shot and killed outside James' club this year.

Lewis and other longtime residents said they were tired of hearing excuses and urged a panel of officials to take immediate, concrete steps to crack down on noise and crime.

Emma Rose, a neighborhood resident for 46 years, said she regrets a decision she made years ago to stay in Hartford instead of moving to the suburbs.

"These clubs think they are doing things to help our youth, but they're serving liquor all hours of the night," she said. "How is that helping them?"

Kimberly Taylor, who has lived in the neighborhood for 44 years, said she understands the motivation behind a recent marketing campaign to market the area as "Uptown" to draw in club patrons. But she said bringing business to the city shouldn't come at the expense of longtime residents.

"I feel I'm captive in my own home most nights," she said.

Lewis said the loud music and crowds get so bad some weekends, she has to go to a hotel to get some peace.

"How did this happen to us?" she said.

City council member Robert L. Painter said he and his colleagues would do more to make sure residents are considered when clubs apply for permits to hold special events. Police Capt. Richard Kemmett, who was recently assigned to oversee police operations in the area, said his officers would step up enforcement of parking and noise violations and crack down on drug dealing and other crimes.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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