Now, only two months after the ordinance was passed, some bar owners have cut their staffs, and other waiters are worried that their jobs will be next.
"We are afraid of losing our jobs," complained one waitress who didn't want to leave her name, in a letter to the Reporter last week.
An amendment to the city's Alcoholic Beverage Control ordinance that went into effect on March 1 forced bars and restaurants to close one hour earlier, at 2 a.m.
Prior to this amendment, liquor establishments were able to sell alcoholic beverages until 3 a.m.
Losing their jobs
For many of the wait staff and kitchen staff working in these bars, their tips are their main source of income. Many are trying to support their families with the money they make at these bars.
"My main source of income is tips, and since the one-hour earlier closing, I lost 30 percent of them," said one waitress who did not want to reveal her identity.
"My business was coming into the bar between 2:30 a.m. and 3 a.m., and now nobody is coming in," said Angelis Garcia, a bartender and waitress at Don Ramon's Restaurant and Bar on 45th Street and Bergenline Avenue. "I would make $200 just in that half hour."
Many bars do not get any business until 10:30 p.m. or later, business owners said. That only leaves three hours of business, they said.
According to Ramiro Franco, owner of La Corona De Espana on the corner of 39th Street and Bergenline Avenue, he has lost about 25 percent of his weekly business since the ordinance came into effect.
"Just because we close one hour earlier doesn't mean that the people are going to come in one hour earlier," said Franco, who is also the president and founder of the Union City Bar and Restaurant Owners' Association. Franco said he has already had to lay off two members of his staff.
"I had no choice," said Franco.
Franco said that other bar owners have done the same and others are thinking about additional cutbacks.
Garcia, who is the mother of three children, said that if she loses her job, it will be difficult for her to find another one.
"My boss is now thinking about cutting people," she said, adding that if she loses her job it will be difficult for her to find another job since she does not have a car. "He needs to cut time and people."
Garcia noted that if she has to drive to work in another town, she will have to buy a car.
Union City Mayor Brian Stack and the Board of Commissioners has charged that many of the problems in the bars are caused by the people traveling in from nearby cities to drink for that extra hour at night, since some of the other towns' bars close earlier. West New York closes at 2 a.m., and Hoboken stops admitting patrons after 2 a.m. (although the bars can stay open until 3). But Angelis said that a lot of the people who came in between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. were Union City residents stopping in on their way home from New York City.
In the long run, the bars may also be losing the bands and entertainment that they use to lure in their customers, bar owners said.
"People would come here to watch, listen to and dance to some band," said Franco who lives in Union City. Many of the customers that come from municipalities such as Elizabeth and Paterson come to see some of the quality Latin performers that play in Union City, he said.
"If people start coming out at 11 p.m., they aren't going to want to go home at 1:30 a.m.," said Franco. "They'll just stay in their towns."
Leonard Lucente, the license inspector in Union City, estimates that 85 percent of the bars in the city have not had any major violations. But he believes that the number of remaining bars who have had violations is too high. He also says that only 17 of the city's 137 liquor licenses do not have any problems whatsoever. Some of the charges against these licenses may be minor paper violations, such as not having their license posted properly.
"This job has doubled what it used to be," said Lucente, who estimates that the problems in the bars have continually increased since 1998.
The Union City Bar and Restaurant Owners' Association said that there are only a handful of problem bars in the city.
"We are never going to defend those bars," said Franco, who said that the bars that continually have problems with drug sales and violence are not represented by the Association. "But there are very few of these bars. There isn't enough to penalize everybody."
While Lucente admits that many off the problems stem from the same bars, he said that there are more than just a handful of these problem bars.
They are usually the same bars," said Lucente. "But there are definitely more than just five or six repeat offenders."
Right now, there are seven cases still waiting to be heard before the city's Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. However, Lucente said that he doesn't know if there have been any problems in the bars since March 1, when the amendment went into effect, because he has asked the prosecutor to hold off on new cases until the licensing is complete. All of the liquor licenses out in Union City have to be renewed by June 30.
However, some of the problem may be that the punishments given by the city in the past may have been too lenient.
According to the New Jersey Alcoholic Beverage Control guidelines, for first offenders, serving a minor should warrant a 15 day suspension, an act of violence should result in a 25 day suspension and any drug activity should result in a 90 day suspension.
However, in Union City, one bar located at 1313 Summit Ave. was charged with five acts of violence and sale to a minor between June 2001 and October 2001 and only received a 15-day suspension.
Another establishment, located at 414 38th St., only received a four-day suspension for two charges of selling to a minor and a sale after hours, and only received a four-day suspension.
Franco does not think that the city has been easy on the bars.
"If anything, they have been too hard," said Franco, adding that he has seen 10-day suspensions for bar owners with minor paper violations.
According to the complaint filed by Vincent LaPaglia, the attorney for the restaurant and bar owners, the public hearings for the amendment that went into effect on March 1, "revealed there was no justification for the proposed amendment and that it would have a severe and significant negative impact" to the bars and restaurants in the city.
Although the Association feels that they were wronged by the city, Franco said that the Association may drop the lawsuit against the city.
"The law is on their side, we know that," said Franco.
However, even if they drop the lawsuit, Franco said that they are still going to fight.