Save Louie's

The Cambridge Licensing Commission ought to be lenient with Harvard’s local vendor

Tucked away on a quiet residential street, humbly situated beside the enormous concrete slabs of Mather House, Louie’s Superette has remained a fixture in College life for years. Louie’s is one of the few alcohol vendors within walking distance of the Square. Thousands of students have come to rely on Louie’s for many of their beverage needs—everything from ice-cold forties to cheap champagne. Louie’s helps Harvard students persevere through the harsh Cambridge winters. But if the city of Cambridge has its way, buying from Louie’s on Friday nights may become one of the few Harvard traditions that actually comes to an end.

Last week, after the Cambridge Police Department (CPD) accused owner Cheng-San Chen of selling booze to four underage undergraduates, Chen announced his intention to close the superette’s doors forever if his liquor license is suspended for more than a few days. Like the change in College diplomas from Latin to English, the end of Louie’s would signify the poignant passing of an era in Harvard lore.

Chen has been asked to appear before Cambridge District Court on Feb. 25 for the charge of selling alcoholic beverages to persons under 21. According to Massachusetts law, if found guilty, he could be forced to pay up to $2,000 and spend up to six months in prison. In the meantime, the Cambridge Licensing Commission (CLC) is conducting an investigation into the matter; at a March 9 hearing, the CLC plans to consider whether to suspend Louie’s liquor license depending on whether the violation is found to be “blatant, unintentional or a mistake.” We hope the commission—recognizing that the evidence clearly suggests the sale was an isolated mistake—allows Louie’s to remain open.

The incident in question concerns four individuals who, according to Chen’s description, did not look at all underage. Chen says he forgot to check the students’ IDs because he was distracted by paperwork. While Chen may have broken the law, there is no evidence that he intended to do so.

While Massachusetts’ puritanical drinking laws perpetually hang over the heads of underage consumers, the laws are most destructive when maliciously enforced. Chen made a mistake, but it would be far more unfortunate for Louie’s to close its doors than for a few underage college students to illegally consume alcohol. With students being physically assaulted on practically a regular basis in the Square—and violent crime occurring throughout all of Cambridge—CPD plainly has more important priorities than keeping alcohol away from college students. Cambridge should spend its time and money deterring gropers and leave tipsy students—and beloved businesses—alone.