Canterbury’s: Shape up or Ship Out

Assault, gun possession and brawling are not words that normally spring to mind when one thinks of our idyllic New England town. Yet, over the past few months there has been an apparent rise in violent incidents on Spring St., and there is little doubt who is to blame.

There is certainly no lack of alcohol in Williamstown as The Purple Pub, The Log, 101 North and other establishments have been more than happy to serve responsible, 21-year-old students. However, for the past few years, Canterbury’s has provided a venue for underage students and town residents to drink with little fear of having drinking laws enforced.

Not only have Williams students come to realize this, but Canterbury’s reputation is so well-known throughout Berkshire County that on any given weekend one can find underage residents of Pittsfield, North Adams and, undoubtedly, many other immediate, and not-so-immediate, towns.

At last night’s Board of Selectmen hearing, William Caprari, owner of Canterbury’s, acknowledged that his primary clientele has shifted in recent months away from Williams College and towards a “caravan crowd” that comes from a fairly broad radius around Williamstown.

Despite an assurance at the hearing that Caprari is not “in the business of operating a bar poorly, illegally or irresponsibly” the evidence does not entirely support that claim. To date, Canterbury’s has been fined on numerous occasions. Last year, the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission (ABCC) observed several violations including the selling of alcohol to underage persons, gambling on the premises and the selling of untaxed and unstamped cigarettes. Early last year, Caprari pleaded no contest to charges of gambling and possession of unmarked cigarettes.

Under the ownership of Caprari, Canterbury’s has clearly disregarded the interests of the community and has repeatedly refused to obey the basic rules governing pub ownership in Massachusetts – the most fundamental of these being the prevention of underage drinking.

We are not so naïve as to suggest that underage drinking can be, or even should be, entirely prevented in a college town. Canterbury’s has, in the past, provided an important outlet for Williams students on the weekends.

Unfortunately, while Canterbury’s used to provide a safe environment for Williams students and town residents, it is now frequented by a group that appears to get its kicks at the expense of Williams students. At the December Board of Selectmen meeting, a representative of College Council stated that many Williams students are afraid of walking down Spring St. at night.

That a member of the community feels unsafe is completely unacceptable. Although we cannot expect the Williamstown Police to station a guard at Canterbury’s every night, nor can we ask College Security to patrol off-campus areas, something clearly must change.

It is the responsibility of Caprari, who as of yet appears to be unwilling to turn down business from underage youth and occasionally violent patrons, to reform his business practices. Further, the town’s responses in the past have not been sufficient to compel Caprari to change his ways and obey the law.

In the past six months, there have been three fights to which Canterbury’s was closely tied. Each has occurred on a “Club Canterbury’s” night. It is also the biggest draw to the transient crowd that has been the source of many of the pub’s recent problems.

We fully support the Selectmen’s decision last night to place Canterbury’s on probation and eliminate the “Club Canterbury’s” event on Thursday nights until further notice. They made a very clear statement last night that Caprari has one last chance. Another incident on Spring St. stemming from questionable behavior by Canterbury’s must lead to the severe punishment that many were hoping would come last night.

The ball is now in Caprari’s court. His lawyer made a point last night of describing him as a “decorated military veteran” who wants to serve the community that he has lived in all of his life. At its best, “Club Canterbury’s” can serve as a safe and fun environment for responsible members of the community to come together and interact. A place for people to unwind from the pressures of life at Williams, MCLA or the real world can be a vital part of the Williamstown nightlife. It is now time for Caprari to follow through with his pledge to provide this service.