Owner of Five Points bar targeted by police says he will be forced to close

Liquor license for The Library, an alleged gang hangout, is in jeopardy; sheriff says it needs to shut down

nophillips@thestate.comNovember 7, 2013 

The Library, a Five Points night club that has been idenitifed by Sheriff Leon Lott as an alleged gang hang out.

— The owner of a controversial nightclub in Five Points said he expects to lose his liquor license and could be forced to close as soon as Friday.

Justin Kershner, owner of The Library nightclub, said he received notice Thursday from the S.C. Department of Revenue that he is expected to pay $18,000 in back taxes by 2 p.m. Friday or surrender his permits to sell beer, wine and liquor. Kershner said he does not have the money, and his options to find a solution are limited.

“What I’m going to do is lose my business,” Kershner said. “I’ll be homeless in a week.”

The Library, which is on the 800 block of Harden Street near the Greene Street intersection, was named Thursday by Sheriff Leon Lott as a hangout for a national criminal street gang. The sheriff, who declined to name the gang, said it had staked out Five Points as its territory and was the main reason violence has been plaguing the popular nightlife district for nearly three years.

The bar also has generated complaints from other Five Points business owners. Two other merchants called out The Library last month during a public hearing on Five Points violence.

If the bar is closed Friday, then the Five Points atmosphere could change overnight, Lott said.

“That is the location they all are going to,” Lott said of the gangs. “That will be a major contributing factor to solving problems we’ve been having in the Five Points area. After 12 o’clock midnight Saturday, it will be a different place in Five Points.”

Kershner denied that his club is a gang hangout. Instead, The Library is being targeted because it is the only club in Five Points that welcomes a young, black crowd, he said. He accused the sheriff and others of being racist.

But Lott took exception with that portrayal.

“Black kids are welcome in all of the bars down there,” Lott said. “What we are focusing on is the gangs and hoodlums coming down there.”

Kershner blamed the unpaid taxes on a former business partner, who was bought out several years ago. That partner was responsible for keeping the books and had failed to pay all of the necessary taxes, Kershner said. He did not elaborate on which taxes had been unpaid.

Efforts to reach a Revenue Department spokeswoman about The Library were unsuccessful Thursday.

Kershner said he had worked out a payment plan with a Revenue Department official and had been making regular payments on the debt.

He said he missed an August payment after plumbing issues forced him to close The Library for a week in August.

Still, Kershner said he was under the impression that everything was in order with his license after making his September payments.

But a Revenue Department official called him Thursday morning to say it was against the agency’s policy to allow payments. The Library has permits for on-premises beer and wine and for liquor by the drink under the name Harden Bar Group LLC.

Kershner questioned the timing of the Revenue Department’s on what he said was a change in his debt payment plan. The notice came a day after Lott called out The Library during a news conference.

Lott would only say, “I’m pleased to see the Department of Revenue is enforcing their rules and regulations fairly to everybody.”

The Columbia Police Department also has been building a case against the nightclub. The club was cited for violating the city’s smoking ban inside bars on Aug. 22 and Oct. 26, said Jennifer Timmons, a Columbia Police Department spokeswoman. A third violation would jeopardize the club’s business license.

Reach Phillips at (803) 771-8307.

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