On Dec. 16, Hoboken was flooded with men and women, many of them from out of town, dressed as Santa Claus, his elves, and reindeer. The Police Department responded to 289 calls for service from 12 p.m. to 4 a.m., during which 17 people were arrested, 55 people were transported to the hospital, and several police officers were assaulted.
Several residents and bar owners spoke out against SantaCon as a nuisance and raised quality of life concerns, including public urination and drunkenness, crowded sidewalks, long lines, and littered streets.
The subcommittee, which consists of council members Michael Russo and Vanessa Falco and is chaired by Councilman Jim Doyle, was joined by First Ward Councilman Michael DeFusco. They wanted to listen to bar owners and residents’ suggestions on how the city can better protect the residents, city, and businesses during pub crawls, which are widely advertised over the Internet.
Steve Brett, a Hoboken resident for the past 30 years said: “This started back when St. Patrick’s Day became hijacked by people who were coming from out of town staring at their phones and looking for a party.”
“I distinctly remember one morning when at 7:30 in the morning I was going for a run and people were already drinking from hipflasks in line waiting to get into bars,” said Brett. “I have to lock my gate to prevent people from urinating in my garden. It is a disgrace. I don’t go to any of the bars on these days. My local community is devastated by what’s happening.”
Mike Citarella, who owns Cadillac Cantina, Texas Arizona Bar & Grill, and Mike’s Wild Moose Saloon, said: “I think another problem in town is kids today don’t have any respect for the police, and that’s a major problem.” He explained that a few nights ago a patron tried to reenter the saloon after 2 a.m., which is when the bar has a one-way door policy. The police were called and when they arrived the patron turned around and shoved the cop. “That is an assault on a police officer.”
Resident Corinne who lives in the First Ward said she used to attend Santa Con before she moved to the city, but only now does she “realize what a nightmare cons are.”
“You get harassed; I wake up to pizza and throw up all over my driveway and door. I know everyone’s a business owner and I enjoy your establishments, but these cons need to stop. I don’t think anything can be done but to ban SantaCon. I understand that you’ve done everything you can as business owners, but you can’t control the people outside.”
“My concern, and I wanted to make sure we speak to this, is it is not just a few days a year in which this behavior happens,” said one resident who did not wish to give her name. “As a resident of the First Ward, when bars close at 3 a.m. or 4 a.m., that’s when fights are happening outside my window and people are screaming or cursing. Bars can’t control that. Yes, maybe people are drinking too much, but the city needs to make changes as well, because it is not happening just a few times a year during cons, its 365 days a year.”
“Why don’t we limit the lines and fine others for loitering?” – Steve Brett
Members of the community had multiple suggestions on how to handle the crawls, including permitting, line length limits, fines, fluctuating occupancies, bringing back the St. Patrick’s Day parade, and outdoor city-sanctioned festivals.
“Why don’t we limit the lines and fine others for loitering?” said Brett. “It is not impacting the bars, the business is full, and they can’t get in any way, so we could stop the people from lining up.”
Citarella suggested that signage be posted outside local establishments stating hefty fines for certain offences.
“I don’t know if you remember this but in the 90’s we actually did that,” said Russo. “We increased the fines and imposed a one-day community service for offenders. The people that were arrested, we made sure that an ad was placed in their local paper of their arrest. Maybe we should consider bringing that back.”
Russo also suggested that maybe certain bars which have had problems in the past should have one-way doors imposed on them at earlier hours. As they get better, they can change it.
Citarella also suggested bringing back the St Patrick’s day parade and making it a family event. He suggested that the parade could end at Pier A where local bars could set up and serve patrons with tickets in a closed-off area.
David Russo, who owns Hotel Victor, said it should be closed like it is for concerts and it would allow for not only bars from all over town to participate, but also create revenue for the city, and police could check the ID’s.
Chris Oneal, who owns Oneal’s, said he believes Hoboken should have tougher laws, including fines and punishments for law-breaking patrons.
“We will have a better class of customer,” said Oneal. “It wouldn’t hurt our businesses.”
Sean McGarr who owns Spa Diner, the Village Pourhouse, House of Que, and the Ainsworth, said that SantaCon allows him to give his employees holiday bonuses and suggested that the town should have two occupancy limits, one with furniture and one without furniture as they do in Morristown.
He said this will allow people to get off the streets while still being safe. Provisional Fire Chief Brian Crimmins said he isn’t sure how it would be calculated but that it is certainly worth looking into.
Eugene Flinn, who owns The Elysian Café and Schnackenbergs, said that he believes there should be mandatory training for bar staff because not all insurance providers mandate it.
According to Doyle, this was just the first open public safety subcommittee meeting and that another will follow in which the subcommittee will report back with suggestions.
Marilyn Baer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.