Chestnut Street incidents of public intoxication, violence and damage to storefronts were at the top of the list of concerns when downtown business owners met with Meadville City Manager Andy Walker on Tuesday.
A brawl early Saturday morning and questions of whether Thunder in the City is “putting our best foot forward” led the agenda for the regular monthly meeting of the Meadville Independent Business Alliance held in the City Building’s conference room.
“Friday was an absolutely, terribly dangerous thing,” Walker said of the brawl that broke out on Chestnut Street early Saturday. The fight left one man in critical condition with a knife wound and led to four plate glass windows being shattered at Techbox. “It was an ugly scene and I’m very proud of our officers, who have a very good knack of calming the situation.”
“This was not Meadville’s best foot forward,” Walker added regarding the chaotic late-night scene.
Meadville police responded to Chestnut Street between Park Avenue and Market Street at approximately 1:55 a.m. Saturday, Chief Mike Tautin explained in an interview after Walker’s meeting with business owners. Officers found a crowd of people arguing and several people fighting in the street and onto the sidewalks. Tautin said the exact size of the crowd was still being determined through investigation and review of security video.
“As officers tried to break up the fighting,” Tautin said, “two or more combatants ended up crashing through the windows.”
One officer was injured when he tried to block falling glass from hitting him, Tautin said.
The officer sustained a severed tendon in a finger, Walker told the business owners, and will be unable to work for weeks as he recovers. The loss means the department is down three full-time officers due to injury, according to Walker.
Tautin said the stabbing victim was flown by helicopter to UPMC Hamot in Erie in critical condition. He was unable to provide an update on the man's current condition.
No charges have been filed, Tautin said, but charges are expected to result from the ongoing investigation into the incident.
Fights involving bar patrons are not unheard of in the area, Tautin said, but this one was out of the ordinary.
“A fight of this size — as many people and as long as it went on — is not the usual thing that we’re dealing with,” he said. “Usually, if we have a bar fight, it’s one or two people.”
Representatives of more than 10 businesses met with Walker. In addition to Techbox, two other businesses reported late-night damage to their facades over the past 18 months — a broken front window at Tattered Corners book store and a front door that was broken open several times at Tarot Bean Roasting Co.
Several of the business owners expressed specific concerns that late-night unruliness was being fueled by Chestnut Street Pub and Grill.
“This has been going on for the last three years. They’re over serving and they’re puking all over the streets,” Ron Gephardt said of the bar located right next to his own establishment, Chippers Bar and Grill. “We’ve got to do something about it.”
Armando Navarro, who bought Chestnut Street Pub and Grill in June, disputed the depiction of his bar at the meeting in an interview with the Tribune. He had not been informed of the meeting, he said, but was happy to talk to both city officials and other business owners.
The people who frequent his bar also frequent other bars in the city, he said, and he is not in a position to deny them service if they haven’t done anything wrong. The incident on Saturday had occurred after all of the patrons at Chestnut Street had been asked to leave for the night, he added, and not everyone involved had been at Chestnut Street.
“I’m raising my prices, I’m trying to make a better business,” Navarro said. “I’m just a businessperson, I work all the time. I’m trying to do good and teach my kids the right things. I’m not responsible for the actions of other people.”
City officials are attempting to do something about what amounts to a “nuisance bar,” Walker said, citing an ongoing investigation into Chestnut Street Pub and Grill by Pennsylvania Liquor Control Enforcement (PLCE) and meetings with both past and present ownership of the bar. He invited those present to leave their contact information if they were interested in contributing to material that would be submitted to PLCE.
While the scene early Saturday was unusual in terms of the degree of violence — droplets of blood leading down Chestnut Street from the shattered windows toward the Market House could still be seen during the Second Saturday Community Market the next morning, Walker acknowledged — in other respects the business owners suggested it was consistent with what they had seen the previous weekend during Thunder in the City.
The behavior various business owners described witnessing firsthand ranged from garden-variety rudeness to underage drinking — followed by underage vomiting — fistfights and public urination.
“There’s this false pretense that it’s this family event, and it truly isn’t,” said Leslie Flint, owner of Indigo Boutique and Botanica. “It’s a way to get (drunk) from the Downtown Mall to the Diamond and for it to be perfectly OK because we don’t have a rule against open containers.”
Flint said in contrast to last year, when her business improved dramatically over the course of the event, this year sales plunged to about 10 percent of her usual amount — and the drop came with multiple instances of shoplifting.
“I won’t do it again,” Flint said of participating in Thunder in the City. “I can’t afford to do it again.”
Christa Lundy, executive director of the Meadville-Western Crawford County Chamber of Commerce, which organizes Thunder in the City, expressed surprise at hearing of such concerns for the first time and said that family-oriented elements of the event had reported positive results.
“Second District (Elementary) PTO already said they had a great event and profited money and they want to come back next year — they loved it,” Lundy said. “I would love to have more things like that.”
As discussion turned to the typical business-owner experience on normal weekends, Sarah Chapp, owner of Confections of a Cake Lover, offered a suggestion.
“We need cameras,” she said.
Mike Crowley can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at email@example.com.