WELLFLEET — When the Fox & Crow Café reopened at its new 70 Main St. location not long after leaving its old place on Commercial Street in July, many townspeople were relieved to know a year-round gathering spot would live on. Nearby neighbors, however, were not pleased.
Because live music being offered was the main issue according to Brad Reichart, who lives across the road at 55 Main St., he checked to see exactly what was allowed under the entertainment licenses held by Fox & Crow owner Trudy Vermehren. He found that there were no entertainment licenses granted by the select board for the new location, which triggered a requirement that Vermehren apply for them and a hearing to be scheduled.
Neighbors took the opportunity to voice their grievances during the Oct. 4 hearing, but plenty of people also turned out that night to support the café’s owner.
The reason for the absence of entertainment licenses appeared to be an oversight that took place during a transition in leadership at Wellfleet Town Hall. Vermehren’s food and liquor licenses had been transferred to the new location after a hearing in May, said Town Administrator Rich Waldo, along with a permit for outdoor seating.
When Vermehren checked before opening in July, she was mistakenly told by town hall staff that the entertainment licenses — one for weekdays and another for Sundays — had also been transferred, said Waldo.
Town Counsel Brian Riley told the select board at the start of the Oct. 4 hearing that it must grant the entertainment licenses unless it finds there has been a significant increase in noise and crowds from what previously took place at the location. Riley said the board could choose to impose conditions on the Fox & Crow’s license to address such increases, such as keeping windows closed or musicians inside rather than outside, but the board chose not to.
The new Fox & Crow space was previously The Well, and before that the Duck Creeke Tavern Room, both of which offered live music.
The previous owners had music indoors only and kept the windows closed, said David Moulton, who lives at 115 Main St. He added that Vermehren kept the windows open and that sometimes the performers are outside. “I’m essentially living at the Fox & Crow when the music is playing,” said Moulton.
Moulton estimated that outdoor seating had caused the capacity at the establishment to double. “I think that’s a major change in how it affects the neighbors,” he said.
Vermehren pointed out that the building is in a commercial district and has historically been an event space. She said she planned to continue to keep the windows open, so the music can be enjoyed by those seated outside, and to use amplification. The neighborhood, she said, can expect weddings, parties, and people arriving after other venues close, since the Fox & Crow can stay open until 1 a.m. The Fox & Crow complies with the town’s noise bylaw, which allows music until 10 p.m., she said.
“I’m not looking to upset anyone, but I do have a business,” Vermehren said. “I’ve been begged to bring Irish music back, and I did.” A Latin jazz duo plays there as well. The performers set up outdoors about once a week. “The community just comes out and it’s joyous,” she said. “I see it that way, but some people see it otherwise.”
Michael Shannon, Reichart’s husband, said that because Vermehren has kept the windows open and allowed musicians to play outside he has experienced a “decreased quality and quantity of sleep due to noise,” which can affect one’s health.
Former select board member Helen Miranda Wilson said she understood that it was a business, but people have a right to sleep. “Telling your neighbors when they can sleep and how they can experience the peace of their homes is unconscionable,” Wilson said. “It’s not kind and it’s not fair.”
Among those who came to support Vermehren was Denice Lapierre. She questioned Wilson’s comment, saying it didn’t make sense “unless you’re talking about how incredibly kind Trudy has been to this community.”
“Compliance with the town’s bylaws is not a popularity contest,” Reichart said. “Our experience with the Fox & Crow has been unlike any other. We sought to engage with the proprietor and were met with silence or disingenuous words.”
Wellfleet resident Sharon Rule-Agger spoke in Vermehren’s defense. “I’ve known Trudy to be extremely conscientious in following every rule and creating environments that are inviting to summer residents, shoulder season residents, and year-round residents,” she said. Rule-Agger said she lives just off Route 6. “I hear music all summer long,” she said. “I consider it a beautiful sparkle to life here, a joyous environment that’s inviting to everybody.”
Several other residents said the Fox & Crow provides townspeople with a much-needed place to gather.
Select board Vice Chair Michael DeVasto argued that Wellfleet is a “pretty quiet town” most of the time. “I’ve been to a lot of towns where there is music on every corner, and it’s blaring,” he said. “That’s not where we are. There have to be places where there is noise in town, and the noise bylaw is fair and applies equally to residents and businesses.”
Shannon had submitted a letter outlining seven zoning violations he believed Vermehren had committed. Select board Chair Ryan Curley said those were not within his board’s purview.
The board voted 4-0 to grant both the weekday and Sunday entertainment licenses.
Member Kathleen Bacon recused herself from the discussion since, she said, she works for a business nearby.
Editor’s note: Because of an editing error, a previous version of this article, published in print on Oct. 20, inaccurately paraphrased comments by Wellfleet Town Counsel Brian Riley about the imposition of conditions on the Fox & Crow’s entertainment licenses.