The doors were closed on an Abbott Road billiard business Monday night after Lackawanna lawmakers voted to rescind its registration because of repeated allegations that it was operating as a hookah lounge.
It wasn’t the first time that Infinity Hookah in Abbott Road Plaza, 1234 Abbott, was in hot water with city administrators over patrons smoking shisha and drinking alcohol inside the premises.
In January 2015, the city posted a cease-and-desist order on the door of the establishment, but the business continued to operate despite repeated police calls at the site. One in March 2015 resulted in the arrest of two patrons on weapons-possession charges. A .38-caliber handgun was confiscated.
“We have no problem with them operating as a billiard hall, but there’s hookah paraphernalia throughout the whole place, and on social media, they are advertising discount hookah nights and other events,” said Fred K. Heinle, Lackawanna director of development.
On March 15, 2015, Erie County Health Department inspectors, the Lackawanna code-enforcement officer, the Lackawanna fire marshal, Director of Public Safety James T. Kuna, Heinle and police officers were denied access to Infinity Hookah because a private party was taking place.
Marwan Taher owns the business with his younger brother. During the public comment portion of the City Council meeting, Taher recounted the night of Jan. 29 when Heinle entered the establishment.
“He said he was there on official city business,” Taher said. “I called the city, and nobody wants to respond. I call police to file charges, and nobody will let me. I showed them the surveillance camera film of Fred Heinle trespassing, harassing and making threats toward myself and my younger brother.”
Three weeks later, Taher said, he received a call from a police official who said no charges would be filed against Heinle. It was Heinle, despite reservations by the Council, who voiced support of the business in June of 2015, when Infinity Hookah received a business registration.
“I’ve attempted to work with this guy,” Heinle said at the time.
“As far as all of them saying they saw us smoking or drinking, they didn’t enter the building, so I don’t know where they got their information,” Taher said. “I have mirror tints on my windows so I don’t know how they were able to see all of that.”
“We had reservations,” said Council President Keith E. Lewis, who was 4th Ward councilman at the time of the vote. “But we approved it. Our understanding was that those windows would be able to be seen through, like every other business in Lackawanna.”
Heinle said that when he visited the premises in January, he saw patrons smoking shisha. He said he also observed a worker preparing hookahs to be smoked.
“I did not threaten anyone. I just advised them they were in violation of their license,” said Heinle, who also denied allegations that he was intoxicated.
The business’ hours of operation also were a subject of dispute. When applying for the business registration, the hours were stated as 2 to 7 p.m. Social media, in contrast, put the hours of operation as 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.
“I thought we were on the same page, and that you would open as a billiard hall and provide people with a place to play billiards,” Heinle said. “That is anything but the case.”
A hearing on the matter will be conducted before the Council at 9:30 a.m. Friday in Council Chambers at City Hall, 714 Ridge Road.