People who have been banned from the bar but gather outside are the problem, the Classique Lounge's operators say.
By JoANNE VIVIANO
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- It was after dark; the 11-year-old girl was driving home with her grandmother, and she was frightened.
"Are we gonna make it home before the shooting starts?" the girl asked. "Because I'm scared."
Diane Summerland, a grandmother rearing three granddaughters on the South Side, said the girl asked the questions after hearing repeated late-night gunshots in the neighborhood.
"That's sad that a child has to worry about when the shooting starts," Summerland said. "Why do we have to feel unsafe when this used to be a safe neighborhood?"
Violence: Summerland, vice president of the South Avenue Block Watch, said she's seen the blasts of fire coming out of guns as she watches from her front porch when bar patrons fill the streets around South and Cameron avenues at 2 a.m. on weekends.
Most recently, gunfire erupted in the area over Easter weekend.
On Easter, two men were shot in their legs at Krakusy Hall, next to the Classique Lounge. The 19-year-old Campbell man and the 20-year-old Youngstown man told police they were shot around 2:30 a.m. by a man in a car who asked, "Where are you from?" and fired five to six shots.
Officers discovered broken glass, several shell casings and a trail of blood in the Krakusy Hall parking lot, police reports show. A 55-year-old man living on Cameron told police his house had been struck by a stray bullet.
At about 2:30 a.m. a day earlier, four women were in a car after leaving the Classique Lounge when a fight broke out. They were blocked in from behind by another auto from which a gun was fired, police reports show. One gunshot damaged a front fender.
Fearful: Cathy Miller, who lives behind the Classique Lounge, said she, her three teen-age daughters and her 15-year-old niece dropped to the floor in fear when hearing the Saturday gunshots.
"My niece was in the kitchen getting a glass of water," Miller said. "She peeked out the window, and people were shooting at each other. ... [My daughters] were woken by gunfire. They came upstairs, and I made them lay on the floor."
Block Watch President Cheryl Soltis said her 17-year-old daughter, son, daughter-in-law and 14-month-old grandson live in her home in the neighborhood.
Daughter-in-law Sabrina Makar said she runs to her son's crib whenever the gunshots start.
"I had his crib by the window because he loves sleeping by the window, and I had to move it," Makar said.
Seeking action: During a sparsely attended block watch meeting last Monday, the women called on police and city officials for help. But Soltis said more people in the neighborhood need to get involved.
"Somebody's got to step up to the plate," Soltis said. "Nobody wants to help. They don't want to get involved. ... It doesn't matter if you get involved. You're involved whether you like it or not."
The women point their fingers at the patrons of the Classique Lounge on South Avenue at Cameron Avenue. They say the bargoers play loud music, fight and shoot guns late at night.
On Friday, the women met bar operators Willie Palmer and Carlton Holness and tried to work things out.
In agreement: Palmer and Holness said they too want to see the violence stopped.
"We live in the same neighborhood," Holness said.
Soltis shook Palmer's hand.
"I have no problem with you. I know this is your livelihood. But we had a lot of shootings last year," Soltis said before inviting him to the next block watch meeting on May 13.
"You will see my face there," Palmer said. "We will work together, because we want to see if we can stop the shooting in this neighborhood."
Placing blame: Palmer and Holness, who took over the bar about eight months ago, said the establishment is not to blame for the problems, which they say just began last weekend.
Problems are started by bargoers whom they have banned from the bar, the bar operators said. The banned patrons become angry, wait outside the bar and cause problems when patrons leave.
The men said they hired armed security guards to staff the bar and its parking lot starting this past weekend. Palmer and Holness said they have also contacted the city police and mayor's office for help controlling and dispersing crowds that gather on the neighborhood streets.
The bar's liquor license has been held by Paul Sanchez since May 1993, through various name changes, according to state records. However, Palmer said he operates the bar, is buying it from Sanchez and is in the process of getting the license in his name. There have been no citations on the permit in more than a year.
Sanchez did not return a request for comment. A woman answering the phone at his address said he is selling the bar and referred the call to the Classique Lounge.
Smokey Joe's closing: Youngstown Police Lt. William Powell, commander of the department's vice division, said there have been problems in the area for about three years that worsened after the city closed down Smokey Joe's nightclub on Market Street in the Uptown District in November.
Smokey Joe's was declared a nuisance after police had investigated various complaints associated with it, including thefts, assaults, public indecency involving dancers, underage sales and a security guard in illegal possession of a firearm. In the months before the closing, there were shootings outside the bar, one that resulted in a homicide.
"It appears that when we closed Smokey Joe's, the entire clientele has gone to the Classique," Powell said.
Powell said the name of the club has changed over the years, but its clientele has tended to be people who hang out outside the bar after closing, making noise, throwing bottles and firing guns. He said patrons move from there to the intersection of Market Street and Midlothian Boulevard and to Glenwood Avenue, where they congregate in parking lots.
Facing charges: License-holder Sanchez, of East Auburndale Avenue, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy to distribute cocaine and possession with intent to distribute cocaine. Powell said he would seek license forfeiture if Sanchez is convicted of the crimes.
Powell also will ask the city law department to investigate nuisance abatement options, he said.
The neighborhood women said they don't want to see the bar closed. They just want to have safe streets.
"It isn't like we're trying to take somebody's livelihood away. ... But we want our children to be safe, and our neighbors," Summerland said. "I realize people have a right to make a living, but we have a right to live unafraid."