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Coffee shop's open mic night closed after complaints

November 02, 2006|by PEPPER BALLARD

HAGERSTOWN - Complaints from some Long Meadow Shopping Center merchants about teenagers loitering outside Port City Java's open mic night have forced the coffee shop to pull the plug on its Thursday music program.

"We've had some problems there with kids congregating Thursday night on shopping center property, banging on other store's windows ... It's gotten a little out of hand," Port City Java owner Vivienne Smith said.

The shopping center's management on Tuesday asked Smith to "immediately" discontinue her shop's open mic night, which ran from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Thursdays.

Debra Hunt, marketing manager for the shopping center, did not return messages left Tuesday and Wednesday seeking comment.

Other events sponsored by the coffee shop, including poetry readings on Tuesdays and live music on Fridays, will continue, Smith said.

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"I'm just sorry that this is the way this turned out," she said. "It's often the case with a lot of things. It's just the behavior of a few that spoils it for the rest of us."

The news upset some high school students who were sitting at tables outside the coffee shop, a small and colorful converted bank that faces the shopping center's open courtyard area, where the music from the event is broadcast.

"That's completely ridiculous," said Will Dennis, 16, a St. Maria Goretti High School sophomore. "It's safer than going out and doing other things."

He called the weekly event "G-rated."

Melanie Connor, a Goretti junior, said, "What else is there to do in Hagerstown?"

Longmeadow Eyecare co-owner Jeannie Huntzberry and Oliver's Pub and Restaurant owner Don Olson said they did not complain about the teens. The businesses, both longstanding establishments at the shopping center, have not been affected by the program, they said.

"Kids have to have a place to go," Huntzberry said. "Personally, I think people are too hard on kids."

Newer business owners Carl Wilhelm, owner of The Little Gym, a motor skills development company, and Tori Evans, owner and manager of Contours Express, said they don't see how the event is a positive outlet for bored teenagers.

"I don't think it's an outlet. If you could show me how that's a good outlet for them to hang out in the parking lot ... No, I'm not going to put up with that," Wilhelm said.

Evans won't either. She pointed to a large crack in a plate glass window of her business. She found the crack on a Friday morning and contends teenagers are responsible. It will cost her $5,000 to repair it, she said.

"There are too many teenagers who come here and hang out," she said. "They push on (the windows) and bang on them."

Evans said gym members have complained about getting teased by the teens.

Tommy Lancaster, a local musician who has hosted the event for more than a year, said he was "very disappointed" the event was discontinued. He has helped children and teenagers get over stage fright, watched adults break out of their shells and coached musicians who come to show off their talents.

Last Thursday, 16 people, who get about three minutes to play, signed up to participate, he said.

Lancaster said, "I think music is a wonderful thing and it keeps - as far as I can tell - it keeps them out of trouble."

Smith said she hired a security guard to work Thursday nights.

Hagerstown Police Department Capt. Jack Moulton said Wednesday that in the past six months, officers have received calls for service five times during the hours of the program.

A 911 hangup at a pay phone occurred in May; three juveniles were removed from the coffee shop in June; juveniles reportedly were smoking marijuana in pine trees behind the store in October; and calls for disorderly youths were made this month, Moulton said.

He said the calls are "not unusual" for the shopping center, which has long been a hangout for youths.

Officers perform routine checks at the shopping center, he said.

Moulton said he has not witnessed what occurs at the shopping center on Thursday nights, but he said that based on the calls for service, "it would not make it what I would call a problem area."

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