Absent, unresponsive landlord forces Pizza Hut to pack up

Pizza Hut on last day 10 17 17

The Pizza Hut on Union Avenue closed on Tuesday after efforts to renew its long-term lease were unsuccessful. The corporation that owns the franchise is hoping to find another location soon. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

Union Avenue restaurant closed yesterday,  but hopes to reopen elsewhere


LACONIA — The Pizza Hut, located on Union Avenue, closed its doors last night after four decades of business. It wasn't for lack of customers, though – the restaurant's lease is expiring and attempts to contact the land owner have failed.

The local Pizza Hut franchise is owned by GC Pizza Hut, a corporation that operates restaurants across the Northeast. The city's tax map shows that the land, comprising two-thirds of an acre at 1137 Union Avenue, is owned by Gerald C. MacNeil, whose address is a post office box in Wichita, Kansas. 

Kent Lavalla, store manager of the Laconia Pizza Hut, said that the company has been trying to contact the land owner for at least four years, in the hopes that the long-term lease could be renewed or renegotiated. But, with no response, the store shut down after service on Tuesday night so that the restaurant could be cleaned out before the end of the month.

"For right now, it is closing," said Lavalla on Tuesday morning. While GC Pizza Hut's first choice was to continue at the Union Avenue location, he said the company is "actively looking" for another nearby location.

In the meantime, all 15 employees of the store have been offered positions in other Pizza Huts in the state. Lavalla, who lives in Barnstead, will work at the Rochester store.

But Lee Dufault, who was offered a position in Tilton, decided instead to take a job at a local gas station.

Dufault thanked the customers that she's come to know over the 14 years that she has worked at Pizza Hut.

"We'll see them at a new location, hopefully soon," said Dufault. Some of their customers cried, she said, when she told them about the closing. "Especially for our older folks, it's really sad... A lot of people are really going to miss this place. I know I'm going to miss them."

"We want to be sure that we thank the customers of Laconia for their last 40 years of loyalty," Lavalla said. "We hope to be back in the not-too-distant future."

10 17 Pizza Hut interior

Laconia Pizza Hut Store Manager Kent Lavalla and employee Lee Dufault wait to greet lunch customers on Tuesday, while Assistant Manager Monica Granger takes a pizza out of the oven. The restaurant closed its doors on Tuesday after 40 years of operation. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)


  • Written by Adam Drapcho
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Closing in Jeffrey Clay case pits free speech against disorderly conduct


LACONIA — Defense attorney Jared Bedrick maintains that Jeffrey Clay’s actions, which Prosecutor Anthony Estee says clearly show Clay’s intention to disrupt a meeting of the Alton Board of Selectmen last February, are instead an example of the freedom expressed in a Woody Guthrie song.

In his closing arguments before Judge Michael Garner on Tuesday, Bedrick recalled hearing “This Land Is Your Land” as a child, and seeing a picture of Guthrie’s guitar, with its message, “This Machine Kills Fascists,” when he was in college.

“It didn’t mean he hit people with his guitar, but that he spread ideas. He went around and spread ideas, and by doing so, he changed minds,” Bedrick said.

“When I became an attorney, I found out that what really kills fascists is our constitution and our courts, which allow someone like Jeffrey Clay to stand up and try to change minds and make progress.

“What I fear,” he continued, “is that, when a governmental body hears that kind of scrutiny and tries to label my client as a miscreant who engages in antisocial behavior. I get concerned because, when I go home to tell my kids what the verdict is in this case, I hope it’s a verdict that says they can participate in public discourse without fear of being kicked out and labeled a criminal.”

Estee’s closing arguments in the hearing that began last August in the New Hampshire Circuit Court District Division Laconia were much simpler. Clay purposely caused a public annoyance by interrupting the business at hand, and he pulled away from the police officer trying to escort him away. The charges of disobeying a police officer and disorderly conduct are justified, Estee said.

Testimony in the trial, which began Aug. 1 and was continued to Oct. 17, showed that Clay spoke three times during a discussion about enacting an ambulance billing policy on Feb. 22, calling the selectmen incompetent for not already having a policy on place. A video of the meeting that was introduced into evidence in the trial showed that, during a later public comment period, he again called the selectmen incompetent, and Chairman Cydney Shapleigh-Johnson interrupted him to ask him to state which agenda item he was speaking about. When he continue taunting the board with insults, she called a recess “to allow him to cool down.”

During the recess, he hurled insults at the selectmen and their attorney, James Sessler, and goaded the police officers present, saying, “You can’t wait to throw the cuffs on me.”

After reconvening the meeting, Shapleigh-Johnson again warned Clay that he needed to address an item on the agenda, or he would be asked to leave.

“Didn’t you lose enough money the last time when you embarrassed the town by having me arrested?” Clay asked, alluding to a $45,200 settlement he had received in a civil lawsuit against the town following a meeting in February 2015 when board policy did not allow anyone to criticize a public employee.

Shapleigh-Johnson called for assistance in removing Clay from the building, and Cpl. William Tolios attempted to get him to leave. Clay demanded to have his three minutes of public comment allowed under board policy and asked whether Tolios intended to arrest him.

“You’re going to be detained while I investigate whether to file disorderly conduct charges,” Tolios responded.

Tolios ultimately arrested Clay for resisting arrest, and the town later added the disorderly conduct charge.

“He was given multiple opportunities to identify what item on the agenda he was referring to, but he was simply expressing his displeasure with the Board of Selectmen,” said Estee. “The Alton selectmen have the lawful authority to enact rules and ask the police to remove a person if the person does not voluntarily leave. … It was a lawful order, issued to prevent or terminate what the officer believes to be a disruption of the meeting.”

Tolios, now a police sergeant, had been on the stand when the trial recessed last August, and he took the stand again at the beginning of Tuesday’s session. Bedrick questioned him intently on how he had come to his decision to make the arrest, and whether it was based on his own or Shapleigh-Johnson’s determination that Clay had been disruptive.

Bedrick also questioned Police Chief Ryan Heath about why police were present at the meeting. The chief said their policy was to have police at all regularly scheduled selectmen’s meetings because of “various contentious issues that come up.”

When Estee raised an objection about the relevance of the questioning, Bedrick said, “I believe that he was there because he was aware of Mr. Clay’s attendance and the town has a trigger finger with Mr. Clay. His presence alone is why they would take swift, harsh action against Mr. Clay.”

When the defense called Clay to the stand, he described the intimidation he felt from the town. “I fear going to town meetings in Alton,” he said, recounting his original arrest for challenging the selectmen.

“I would talk about issues the town does not want to hear about. I talked about the right to know, and I encouraged them to dress more appropriately,” he said. “They started having a police officer sit right behind me, to instill fear in me. As soon as I walk through the door, they call the police.”

He said he stayed away from meetings after his first arrest, but he got involved again after learning that the town was billing residents for using the ambulance without having a policy in place that changed the prior practice of providing the service at no charge.

“They were reprehensible,” he said. “They took the money collected from billing and used it to pay firefighters’ wages, rather than putting it into a special revenue account. They take money from the poorest people in town and turn it over to a firefighter for a purpose it’s not supposed to be used for.”

He said the selectmen knew he was going to discuss that during the public hearing and cut him off before he could get to his subject.

Clay said he was confused by Tolios’ intervention, when the officer did not explain what he meant by detention. “I kept asking, ‘Are you arresting me?’” Clay said.

He told the judge that he has poor vision in one eye and suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder as well as severe panic disorder, so when the officer approached from his blind side and touched him on the shoulder, his heart started racing and he was unsure what was taking place.

He said it was the Board of Selectmen, and not himself, who created the disruption.

Judge Garner took the case under advisement and told the attorneys he would accept additional written statements for 30 days, with another 15 days allowed for the other party to respond. He apologized to Clay for dragging the case out, but said his caseload prevented him from deliberating right away, and he said taking the additional time will allow him to make the right finding for everyone involved.


  • Written by Tom Caldwell
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Hebert named to city clerk position

LACONIA — Deputy Tax Collector Cheryl Hebert has been hired to succeed Mary Reynolds as city clerk, City Manager Scott Myers said Tuesday.
Hebert has worked for the city for three years and also had responsibilities as account clerk and licensing clerk. She will earn $43,495 annually in her new position.
She has also been involved in licensing board meetings, Motorcycle Week and municipal elections. Prior to her employment with the city, she worked for the Shaker Regional School District in Belmont and for the State of New Hampshire.
She has also been active in Laconia youth sports, including in coaching girls and boys basketball.
Hebert resides in Laconia with her husband, Peter, and their two children.
Reynolds’s resignation was effective Oct. 13. She plans to move out of state with her family.

Cheryl Hebert

Cheryl Hebert

  • Written by Rick Green
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