City leaders raise concerns over BlackFinn saloon
By Hank Beckman For the Sun November 3, 2012 7:26PM
A security guard at BlackFinn American Saloon, 16 W. Jefferson Ave. in Naperville, was seriously injured when he was stabbed by a customer he was trying to escort out early Sunday, police said. March 6, 2011 | Sun-Times Media File
Updated: December 5, 2012 6:28AM
Starting with the February stabbing death of Naperville teacher Shaun Wild and continuing right up to the recent melee outside the BlackFinn American Saloon, Naperville’s downtown nightlife scene is steadily gaining a reputation as a place where violent confrontations are altogether too common.
And when City and community leaders take up the discussion of the problem, one name always seems to come up: the BlackFinn American Saloon.
The Oct. 27 altercation that took place outside the bar and restaurant at 16 W. Jefferson Avenue resulted in the arrest of four—none from Naperville—and while not actually inside BlackFinn, it follows several other incidents the establishment.
One City Council member has no trouble expressing what he thinks might be a possible solution.
“They should be shut down,” Grant Wehrli said. “Like now.”
Wehrli called BlackFinn an “egregious outlier” in the downtown district and that the saloon was not in step “with what we are trying to do in downtown Naperville.”
Wehrli suggested that BlackFinn being corporately owned may have something to do with the problem City officials had communicating with BlackFinn management.
But he pointed out that several other restaurants downtown, including Sullivan’s Steakhouse, were also corporately owned, yet their management personnel still managed to be active in the community.
“They (BlackFinn management) don’t want to be part of the community. They just want to operate a business and take the profits.”
Wehrli stopped short of calling for the complete revocation of BlackFinn’s liquor license, but was adamant that the saloon should lose their license to operate for a period of time, suggesting a week for starters.
“I am shocked to learn about these allegations,” Lenny Skorcz, BlackFinn operating partner, said in an email communication. “Upon learning of them through the press, our representatives have reached out to the City of Naperville to garner additional details, and have yet to receive a return call.”
The email stressed that Skorcz had been in the business 20 years, was on the premises every night and that BlackFinn took pride in operating a professionally, well-trained operation.
It also pointed out that BlackFinn employed about 100 people from the Naperville area.
Skorcz also said that he considered BlackFinn to be very much a part of the Naperville community, noting that BlackFinn had been involved in many community events, such as St. Baldrick’s, the Naperville Firefighter’s fundraiser and the Anti-Hunger Games.
Skorcz also stressed that he was eager to work with Naperville officials.
Whatever the level of interaction between BlackFinn and the community, evidence collected so far seems to back up Wehrli’s view of the saloon as a prime source of trouble.
“The majority of our calls are coming from the BlackFinn American Saloon or right outside of it,” Police Chief Bob Marshall said in a telephone interview, although he stressed that the data were not yet complete.
Marshall said that the department is beefing up its presence on weekend nights.
Police will also be partnering with the Naperville Fire Department to enforce occupancy codes in the area, the violation of which are thought to have led to several situations of overcrowding that led to fisticuffs.
He said that the Department’s liaison to the Naperville Liquor Commission would work proactively toward determining just why the number of violent incidents was on the rise.
Marshall said that any one of several factors could be involved, including drink specials at BlackFinn and other establishments, might be to blame for some of the incidents.
Many of the brawls happen after midnight and likely involve people more intoxicated than they would be without the special prices.
Then there is the partying in the City’s parking structures on Benton Avenue and Washington Street that have prompted several recent arrests.
After drinking, and sometimes consuming illegal substances in their cars, late night revelers are often intoxicated before they even set foot in a drinking establishment.
Marshall pointed to the multiple floor physical layouts of BlackFinn and other establishments as a possible cause, saying that as the night wore on and patrons became more intoxicated, there was greater chance of people bumping into one another and coming to blows.
The rise in violence in Naperville’s downtown entertainment district may also be an unintended consequence of the very success of the area.
As the area becomes more popular, it attracts a growing number of people from outside the city who don’t always behave and may indeed may the types that look for trouble.
None of the four men arrested in last weekend’s incident were Naperville residents, Marshall pointed out.
Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce interim President Tami Andrew advocates a dialogue with City leaders and members of the downtown business community.
“The rise in crime in downtown Naperville is a concern to us all,” she said. “It’s logical for everyone to sit down and figure out what the problems are.”
But Wehrli thinks the time has come for action.
“The time for talking to these people is over,” he said.