It was late Sunday night into early Monday morning when some Bridesburg residents first heard the commotion last week.
“There were parked cars honking horns until 12:30,” said Brian Dennett, resident of the 4400 block of Edgemont Street. “Sunday night was the worst I’ve seen it.”
Dennett and other residents the Star talked to in the wake of the incident reported not just parked cars honking in the middle of the street, but yelling, marijuana smoking and even fighting from patrons who spilled out of Edgemont Caterers on Sunday evening, March 7.
“All hell broke loose,” said Tara Racek, who also lives on the block, a few doors down from Dennett. “Cars were zooming down the street and honking.”
Dennett’s next door neighbor, Barry McAfee, has patronized Edgemont in the past and has even ordered takeout from the business in recent weeks out of support for the small business amid the struggling economic climate.
“I don’t want to see anybody lose their business,” said McAfee.
But even McAfee said he was left no choice but to call the police that Sunday night when the ruckus became too loud.
“I get up at 4:30,” he said. “They were loud and yelling, and I couldn’t sleep.”
The event set off a social media firestorm. A Facebook post from that night shows a large crowd of people outside the business clearly not adhering to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines. Nearly 200 comments were posted, with most residents trashing the business.
“This place is a public nuisance,” read one comment.
“The neighbors need to start a petition to close them down as a nuisance business,” read another. “Next thing God Forbid there will be shootings stemming from the fighting.”
In the wake of the incident, the business’s owner set up a Friday night meeting to discuss the “nuisance business” allegations with the neighborhood.
“I’m offering an olive branch to hear what it’s going to take to hopefully be able to work together,” said Edgemont’s owner, Amy, at the meeting to a small crowd of about 10 residents who showed up. “I want to offer you guys to please have communication with me. I’ll talk to you.”
Amy requested the Star not use her last name for safety reasons regarding the online vitriol she’s been a recipient of.
At the meeting, she explained that because of COVID and a lack of events that need catering, she had been forced to first transition her business into a restaurant and takeout operation in order to stay afloat financially. When that didn’t work out, she transitioned Edgemont Caterers into a hall rental. Then she gave her side of the story about what happened March 7.
After agreeing to rent her space out to a “pageantry LLC,” Amy sent the LLC a contract for the rental complete with COVID guidelines, which stipulated that no more than 54 people could be in the building. It also said that the group would rent the hall from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday night.
“6 p.m. came, no one showed up,” Amy said. “7, no one showed up. By 9 o’clock at night I got a phone call from one of the employees saying no one’s here what do you want us to do?”
According to her security camera footage, an emcee with 20 other people eventually showed up at the building at 9:17 p.m. But that number grew quickly.
“At 10:15, I get a phone call from [my staff] saying we are well over COVID compliance and they keep coming in,” said Amy, who was in regular contact with her staff, but not present the night of the incident. “There is a lot of people.”
Amy, who was not present at the building that night, said she confirmed with her security camera footage that the room was indeed well over the limitations and that people were standing “shoulder to shoulder.”
She then called the man who completed the booking with her, she said, and told him he needed to clear people out.
“I said, ‘Listen,’ ” she explained, “‘I’m going to give you 15 minutes to do what you need to do to take this room back down to a compliant level.’”
After waiting the 15 minutes and not seeing the crowd diminish enough in size, she pulled the plug on the rental.
“I am very sorry, but this rental is terminated, effective now,” Amy said to the man when she called him back, according to the story she told at the Friday meeting. “You guys are well over our capacity and you know that that was the case.”
After the cancellation of the rental contract, everybody who was inside the building spilled outside. Amy said she eventually found out that the pageantry LLC was really a pageantry for drag queens.
“By 10:30, 10:40, this room was down to the emcee who was wrapping up, and all the guests walked out onto Edgemont Street,” she said. “For that, I apologize to you guys, because you didn’t deserve my interior problem on the exterior. And for that I am very sorry.”
“It was a terrible judgment call on my behalf,” she said. “I will take 100 percent of the blame for that.”
Most residents at the meeting seemed understanding of the owner
“I have never seen a business have a problem and then sit there and try to address it like you’re doing,” said one resident who identified himself as George Smith. “So this is to me a very positive thing.”
Amy, who remodeled the space just before the pandemic began, explained that she was hoping to stay in the neighborhood for the long haul. She noted that she grew up in the Bridesburg area, although she no longer lives nearby.
“I cannot just turn my back on Edgemont,” she said. “My heart has been in this … I’m here to stay.”
After the meeting, Amy told the Star she was “saddened” more people didn’t show up to the meeting.
“I truly, sincerely would love to be able to continue a business past COVID-19,” she said. “When you have people who won’t come and talk to you and they just want to bash you and use other sources, it gives you a very grim light of what you think the future holds.”
State Rep. Joe Hohenstein, who was present at the meeting, said he was “happy to see the neighbors come together to settle their problems peacefully and respectfully.”
“I especially appreciate that Amy had come to the community to address their concerns in person,” added Hohenstein. “We should remember our small businesses have had a difficult year, especially the hospitality industry, and we need to offer constructive support.”
When asked whether the recent incident was isolated or part of a pattern of recurring events of unruly patrons stemming from Edgemont, different neighbors on the block had different answers.
“Even before COVID it was a pattern,” said Dennett, who has lived on the block for 16 years. “People would sit on our front steps … every time they [hold an event] it ends up outside.”
Curt Elliott, who lives on the block, said he hadn’t been bothered by the business, save for some issues with parking it creates.
“It doesn’t bother me at all,” a resident of the block named Eddie said of Edgemont. “It’s not that bad.”
At the meeting, Amy cautioned residents that even if her business were to close, another might open up in its spot that may not be so willing to work with residents.
“What came of Sunday at this point has been an awful lot of Edgemont bashing,” said Amy. But “if Edgemont cannot make it in Bridesburg … someone will continue doing something with this building.”