‘Cut the sh*t out’: Allentown mayor urges club owners to curb violence or face fines, closure
ALLENTOWN, Pa. — Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk spoke directly to owners of “after-hours clubs” during a news conference Monday outside Synergy Hookah Lounge, where a man was fatally stabbed this month.
“Cut the sh*t out. Please,” Tuerk said, looking directly at owners and employees of Allentown hookah lounges at the conference.
- Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk, Police Chief Charles Roca and other officials spoke Monday morning outside Synergy Hookah Lounge
- Kevin Tarafa, 29, of Bethlehem, was fatally stabbed June 18 inside the lounge, police said
- City officials are targeting illegal activity at “after-hours” businesses in the wake of the deadly stabbing
Tuerk called the owners “brilliant entrepreneurs” and urged them to work with city officials to address violence and other issues that stem from “after-hours” operations.
“We’re asking you to work in collaboration with us so you can find a way to succeed that doesn’t ruin the lives of everybody in this city,” Tuerk said. “You’re capable of doing that.”
Tuerk was joined at the news conference outside Synergy by several Allentown officials.
“These things go by a lot of different names — after-hours clubs, hookah lounges, nightclubs, speakeasies. Whatever you call it, it's causing a disturbance in our city and in our neighborhoods, particularly here on the East Side.”Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk
They detailed the city’s nuisance-abatement ordinance and actions that police, the Community and Economic Development Department and council members are taking in the wake of a fatal stabbing at the hookah lounge.
“This is the team that is going to put an end to this nonsense in the city of Allentown,” Tuerk said, gesturing to Police Chief Charles Roca, DCED Director Vicky Kistler, interim city solicitor Adam Rosenthal and council members.
City officials were flanked by the parents of Kevin Tarafa, 29, who was stabbed inside Synergy Hookah Lounge in the early morning of June 18.
Tarafa died several hundred feet away in the 1600 block of East Greenleaf Street, police said.
“We're not going to let it continue; we're going to put a stop to this activity,” Tuerk said. “We're not going to let Union Boulevard become ‘Hookah Row’ or ‘After-Hours Row.’
"We're not going to let this continue to damage quality-of-life in our city.”
Violence being 'pushed out of clubs'
Allentown officials are targeting “after-hours” businesses following Tarafa’s death.
“These things go by a lot of different names — after-hours clubs, hookah lounges, nightclubs, speakeasies,” Tuerk said Monday. “Whatever you call it, it's causing a disturbance in our city and in our neighborhoods, particularly here on the East Side.”
Violence is being “pushed out of these clubs” and onto “our city streets, in parking lots and in our neighborhoods,” Tuerk said.
Businesses would be deemed to be open “after hours” if they are serving customers past the closing times they stated on city applications, officials said Monday.
There is no single definition of “after-hours” that would apply to all businesses in Allentown, Rosenthal said.
"I was here [at Synergy] that night. The music was still bumping while my son’s blood was dripping."Lissette Rodriguez, mother of Kevin Tarafa
Allentown City Council members introduced a resolution last week that would increase penalties for nuisance violations or violence at those businesses.
The city’s nuisance-abatement ordinance — adopted in February — sets fines at $250 for a first violation and $500 for a second violation.
If the resolution is approved, a business’ first nuisance-abatement violation would cost $2,500. That would be doubled for further violations, the resolution states.
Businesses operating illegally could face a $20,000 fine or immediate closure if violence occurs there.
'None of them need to be open'
City Council member Candida Affa is at the head of council’s charge to curb violence and crime at late-night businesses. She sponsored the resolution, along with members Daryl Hendricks and Ed Zucal.
Affa, who owned a bar — Candida’s — for 37 years, said she will work “to do anything and pass any legislation [city officials] want" to shut down late-night businesses operating illegally.
“We need to get rid of them, period,” she said.
“I promise you, we're going to fix this.”
"None of them need to be open."Lissette Rodriguez, mother of stabbing victim Kevin Tarafa
Lissette Rodriguez, Tarafa's mother, urged Allentown officials Monday to shut down all late-night businesses.
"None of them need to be open," Rodriguez said.
"I was here that night," she said outside Synergy. "The music was still bumping while my son’s blood was dripping."
Boycott 'after-hours' businesses: Official
The Allentown DCED enforces the city’s nuisance-abatement ordinance. Department Director Vicky Kistler on Monday urged residents to help her staff by boycotting businesses “that operate outside the laws designed to protect you.”
"By making a conscious decision to support businesses that prioritize safety and abide by regulations, you're sending a powerful message that our collective well-being matters,” Kistler said.
Any business that is deemed a “frequent or severe risk to [residents’] health and safety will be targeted for permanent closure” under Allentown’s nuisance-abatement ordinance, Kistler said.
“That is not a decision we take lightly but rather a necessary step to protect the lives of our community,” she said.
Lounge owners say they need help
Allentown officials said they don't want to shut down all late-night businesses, just those operating illegally.
They called on lawful late-night business owners to be part of their solution.
Several hookah lounge owners and employees said they’re confident they will be included in the city’s push to curb violence and crime at late-night businesses, but only because they made themselves impossible to ignore.
City officials, police and business owners “should be working together, not against each other.”Secrets Hookah Lounge owner Shaun Fequiere
Secrets Hookah Lounge owner Shaun Fequiere spoke at last week’s city council meeting, where he said officials, police and business owners “should be working together, not against each other.”
Secrets bought a metal detector after Tarafa’s fatal stabbing, Fequiere said. He asked council members for help enforcing laws outside his business.
“Security guards can only do but so much,” he said, noting Allentown Parking Authority enforcers have more authority and legal protection.
Fequiere said Monday that police helped security guards at Secrets just twice in the past year, arresting people after they were thrown out of the lounge. Both incidents occurred the same weekend, he said.
“That weekend was beautiful,” Fequiere said. He said those arrests show customers “we’re not playing” about enforcing laws and ordinances.
Fequiere was at Monday’s conference with two managers from Secrets. They said Allentown police could prevent many issues by conducting more patrols around late-night businesses after 2 a.m.