SLOAN – The Village of Sloan is proactively taking steps to prevent the operation of a perceived gentlemen’s club inside the former Bebe’s Place bar on Reiman Street after a “Members Only” sign appeared on the front door a few weeks ago.
The sign on the front door of 333 Reiman Street has residents circulating rumors on the Internet that the property may be operating as a gentlemen’s club. Two concerned residents at Tuesday’s Village Board Meeting wanted answers.
“The Village of Sloan has no intention of permitting, condoning or allowing for a gentlemen’s club in the village,” Village Attorney Jim Vallone told residents. “We know for a fact it’s around residences. We know for a fact it’s close to the church. We know a very distinguished school system and parish that have been here for years and years. So we have no intention in the Legal Department for letting that continue.”
Cheektowaga Chronicle went to the address following the meeting and met with John Washington. He said he was the owner of the property and invited Cheektowaga Chronicle and a reporter from the Cheektowaga Bee into the bar front to show us that he is not operating a strip club.
Mr. Washington said he recently purchased the property by paying cash. “I put it in my grandmother’s name when I bought the building just for tax reasons,” said Mr. Washington.
He began a remodeling project of the bar room adding big screen TVs, a pool table, new drywall, and paint. Also, he removed a dividing wall to a rear apartment to make the bar a part of the residence. He equates it to a man cave except it’s not in the basement.
“I’m smart, by law, now this is a house because you can walk into my living room, my dining room. This a part of the house so you can’t do anything. It’s my house, not a business. The only reason the signs are going up is because it’s a club – it’s Team Washington. It’s a members-only club,” said Mr. Washington.
The 40-year-old said he runs the 52 member club with his brother. Men pay $30 a month and woman pay $20 a month to cover expenses like ice, cups, toilet paper, and paper towels.
“If you got a job you can come in here. You buy a membership for $30, so we can watch the games – the football games, the basketball games, the hockey games,” said Mr. Washington. “I’m not opening up a bar – this is a members-only – which means when you’re a member and every member has their own bottle. You pay for a membership and you can bring your own bottle.”
A village source tells Cheektowaga Chronicle that the Reiman Street property is zoned as residential and would require the village to issue a non-conforming use permit if anyone wanted to operate the bar. Activity at the property is being monitored by the village according to the village attorney.
“We’ll start with the process of going to Cheektowaga Court over violations if necessary, but also at our disposal is the civil court proceedings and if we have to hire counsel, we will. That would be the last tool in the toolbox because that would cost money to the taxpayers,” said Mr. Vallone.
The village recently issued an order to stop work on the property because proper permits were not pulled. Mr. Washington says he was painting and laying new carpet and didn’t think he needed a permit. A village source says original permits for the remodel work were pulled back when Mr. Washington explained the work, but they grew concerned soon after because Mr. Washington appeared to be installing a new electrical service without pulling a work permit.
Mr. Washington feels that he’s being discriminated by the village government because of his race. “I’m black, with a lot of money and see this as a problem,” said Mr. Washington. “‘You’re a black face, and Sloan is a very racist place’ is exactly what the neighbors tell me.”
“It bothers me, and what you guys should really write in there [news article], is that’s harassment, and they’re barking up the wrong tree. I shouldn’t have to identify who I am. I shouldn’t have to use my, say I’m a police officer. I’m not going to do that, I’m a citizen like you when I take my uniform off,” added Mr. Washington.
An investigation by Cheektowaga Chronicle into Mr. Washington’s claims found discrepancies with his side of the story.
Erie County real estate records show the property was purchased in February by West Seneca investment firm Maple Leaf Capital Corp. The company owns four other properties in Cheektowaga and Depew.
Cheektowaga Chronicle reached a company representative by phone Thursday afternoon hoping to reach Martyn Merritt – a Cheektowaga resident who appears to manage the Reiman Street property according to sources. The representative told us that Mr. Merritt was on vacation until next week and he could not confirm if Mr. Washington was a leaseholder. However, the representative said to us that Mr. Washington is not affiliated with the investment company to the best of his knowledge.
Cheektowaga Chronicle reached Mr. Merritt by phone Thursday evening. “I have no connection with Mr. Washington. I did meet him once, and he seems like a nice fellow. I have no clue what he plans to do,” said Mr. Merritt.
Asked if Mr. Washington has a financial interest in Maple Leaf Capital Corp. Mr. Merritt responded, “I don’t want to tell you one way or the other because I personally, me, you know me, I don’t like busybodies.”
Mr. Washington’s claim of being a police officer is also in question after Cheektowaga Chronicle searched SeeThroughNY.net, a non-profit, Albany think tank which collects data on active and retired public employees in New York State. We did not find an active or retired police officer locally by that name. Published reports said Mr. Washington was a member of the Buffalo Police Department. A spokesperson for the department tells Cheektowaga Chronicle that they do not have an officer on the force by that name.