Candidate in 177th discusses offensive Casper’s shirt

Sean Kilkenny, owner of a Mayfair property that was home to the infamous Casper’s Place, says neither the bar nor the building owners signed off on the T-shirt with the bar’s name on it.

Not so friendly: Casper’s Place garnered citywide notoriety when offensive T-shirts surfaced around town. Sean Kilkenny, a Democratic candidate in the 177th Legislative District and property owner of the former bar, called the message “disgusting and nauseating.” The origin of the T-shirts remains a mystery.

By Max Marin

Sooner or later, Casper was bound to haunt Sean Kilkenny.

Kilkenny, a union plasterer, is one of a handful of Democrats gunning to replace longtime Republican Rep. John Taylor in the 177th House district, a heavily gerrymandered wedge that covers parts of Port Richmond, Bridesburg and Mayfair.

He’s also the owner of a Mayfair property that was home to the infamous Casper’s Place, as several tipsters pointed out to Philly Weekly. In 2008, the neighborhood watering hole garnered citywide notoriety when offensive T-shirts bearing the bar’s name surfaced around town.

The shirts prominently advertised Casper’s logo with the iconic friendly ghost and a smattering of Irish shamrocks. While the tagline read “A Friendly Place To Drink,” the specter’s speech bubble suggested otherwise to African-Americans: “No Spooks Allowed!” the ghost exclaimed.

Casper’s Place has since been replaced by another bar called the Parish Pub, but the Cottman Avenue property owner, KSC Ventures LLC, has been consistent since 2006. That’s where Kilkenny — one of the property owners, and a shareholder of the bar’s business — comes in.

To hear him tell it, Casper’s “wasn’t an ordinary watering hole” but a “friendly, neighborhood establishment.” More importantly, he says, neither the bar nor the building owners signed off on the T-shirt with the bar’s name on it.

“KSC Ventures as property owners — and Casper’s Place as business owners and operators — never authorized the manufacture or knew anything at all about the offensive T-shirt,” Kilkenny said, in an email. “No sales of the shirt were ever authorized by KSC Ventures, or Casper’s Place. The property owners and the business owners were made aware of the unpalatable clothing, and took immediate action.”

Kilkenny called the message “disgusting and nauseating,” but the origin of the T-shirts remains a mystery.

“This allegation came to light in the press, almost eight years ago,” he continued. “I condemned the actions then, and I continue to condemn them now. I not only see a problem with these repulsive words on articles of clothing, I have a problem with this language in any conversation, or dialogue.”

Pressed for further comment, Kilkenny said that nearby Mayfair residents alerted bar owners to the presence of young “mid-20s” men wearing the shirts around the neighborhood. How many shirts were made, and who would use the bar’s name to make such merchandise? No answers were pinned down.

“One idiot wore [the] shirt into the establishment, and management asked them to remove the shirt, when they refused, they were escorted out,” he said.

Kilkenny obtained a 15 percent stakeholder interest in the bar business after KSC Ventures acquired the property. While his day-to-day role consisted mainly of property management duties, he sometimes assisted in various roles at the pub itself.

The Casper’s T-shirt was first flagged in 2008 by Don Russell, a beer critic and former editor of Philadelphia Weekly. Russell, who writes under the nom de plume Joe Sixpack, spotted the offensive Casper’s Place apparel while on his way to a Phillies game. Sixpack wrote in a blog post: “How, in the 21st century, does anyone who conducts business with the public even think of printing a T-shirt like that?”

Sixpack added that Philadelphia’s Commission on Human Relations “nearly shut down Geno’s Steaks for less” — a reference to the steakery’s infamous sign requesting customers order in English, which the commission ruled discriminatory in 2011.

Casper’s offensive shirt never caught that much attention — outside of the neighborhood, at least.

A working-class rowhome neighborhood in lower Northeast Philly, Mayfair’s population is predominantly white, with growing numbers of minority and immigrant residents.

Some of these self-identified Mayfair residents were reportedly contending with another problem at Casper’s prior to its closure. Numerous online comments and posts about Casper’s Place claimed that the bar regularly served alcohol to minors.

Kilkenny acknowledged the complaints.

“Regarding the allegations of underage drinking violations at Casper’s Place, any findings by the Pennsylvania State Police, and the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) were addressed accordingly by Casper’s, and Casper’s instituted better practices,” he wrote.

The Philadelphia Liquor Control Enforcement did not return repeated phone calls for comment. Later, Kilkenny said that his company’s own investigation into the matter found the bar faultless.

“KSC did investigate all rumors, brought to our attention, through both word of mouth/hearsay and online posts,” he wrote. “Our findings determined that the online posters, and those spreading the rumors, were former employees, or antagonists of current employees associated with Casper’s Place (ex-partners, mutual admirers of the same person, patrons who may have been flagged for behavior unbecoming of the establishment, etc.)”

While still early in the 177th House race, Kilkenny has already won the endorsement of the Building Trade Council and other unions.

He said he has no other business interests other than the bar property on Cottman Avenue, and real estate records show that this is the only building owned by KSC Ventures LLC.

He maintains that neither the T-shirt debacle nor the allegations of underage drinking had anything to do with Casper’s Place changing ownership. The bar was sold at or above market value and reopened as the Parish Pub a few years ago.

“Allegations and rumors did not play any role in the sale of Casper’s Place to the Parish Pub,” he said. ••

Q&A with Sean Kilkenny:

I have a few questions about your business involvement with KSC Ventures regarding its commercial property on the 3500 block of Cottman Avenue in Mayfair. There is now a bar at this location called Parish Pub, which you told me you have no part in other than being one of the property managers. Prior to his bar, this location was home to another watering hole called Casper’s Place. Zoning records list your name as the applicant for this business. What was the exact nature of your involvement in that bar?

I have a financial interest in the Commercial/Residential properties, at the address of 3510 and 3512 Cottman Avenue. This interest has existed for approximately a decade.

Prior to the Parish Pub, the property was the location of Casper’s Place. Casper’s has been the name of the establishment there for at least 24+ years. Mr. Fred Casper expanded the business through wall penetrations in 1996, from 3510 Cottman Avenue, to 3512 Cottman Avenue. Mr. Fred Casper sold the business to another group of neighborhood residents, who enhanced the Casper’s experience with light food specials and the retention and hiring of responsible staff, and catering to respectable customers. When we purchased the property, we did extensive renovations, both interior and exterior, to beautify the properties. Although everything was up to code, the building needed updating, and a re-design/new layout configuration. KSC Ventures became the property owner, and a separate entity/corporation became the business operator. At the start of the business, operating as Casper’s Place, after KSC Ventures acquired the properties, I obtained a very minor stock portion of the business entity, approximately 15–16%. This interest in the property was a leveraging tool, to afford the business entity the opportunity to grow, and increase their capital and cashflow.

Casper’s wasn’t an ordinary watering hole, it was a friendly, neighborhood establishment that served food, and had a Responsible Alcohol Management Program [RAMP] (state program). Casper’s Place had certified staff, bartenders, and door attendants. Casper’s assisted neighboring schools, catholic youth organizations, community groups, and labor-affiliated sports teams with their fundraising and celebratory events. Casper’s Place had a manager, who ensured that their practices & procedures were checked and enforced. KSC, as property owners, restored pride of ownership to Cottman Avenue. We had the sidewalks swept and cleared daily from Leon Street (West) and an equal distance to the East (towards Frankford Avenue), approximately one hundred feet in both directions. On occasion, I would assist at the bar in various roles, in an unpaid capacity, to help the business and their friends in the community with successful events.

The Zoning Records, that I recall, list myself as the applicant for the properties, KSC Ventures.

KSC Ventures is strictly related to ownership of the real estate. The Permit Number was #412527, Calendar Number was #18549. I believe the reasoning from our counsel was because zoning and use follows the property/real estate parcels, and not the business. Please see the Mayfair Civic Association’s zoning notice conclusion letter link below.

http://www.mayfaircivicassociation.com/2012/09/zoning-3510-3512-cottman-avenue-caspers.html

{Property History, found in some of our boxes, most of which was “discovered” through demolition/cleaning, prior to renovations: Hugh & Margaret Bigley operated a Beer Distributor in 3510 in the 1950s, while the Fluehr Family had a Real Estate Sales office in 3512. 3510 then was used for Refrigeration & Electrical Supply & Appliances (H & H Mechanical, aka Hugh & Harry), while 3512 became an Air Force recruiter office. 3510 then became a Restaurant & Tavern, under Hugh & Margaret Bigley in the mid-1960s, while 3512 became a jeweler. Fred Casper eventually became the owner of both 3510 and 3512, records indicate approximately 1994, two years before Fred applied and breached the walls and supported the structure (to code) between the two properties.}

Casper’s Place used to sell branded T-shirts that said “no spooks allowed.” This was well-known in the neighborhood and eventually the offensive slogan found its way into local media. First off, were you aware of this as the owner of the building/business? And secondly, considering the growing diversity of the 177th District — as well as the historical racial tensions in some of its neighborhoods — do you see a problem with this type of slogan at a public business?

Correction. It appears that someone bought and paid for bad opposition research.

KSC Ventures as property owners, and Casper’s Place as business owners and operators never authorized the manufacture or knew anything at all about the offensive t-shirt referred to above. No sales of the shirt were ever authorized by KSC Ventures, or Casper’s Place. The property owners, and the business owners were made aware of the unpalatable clothing, and took immediate action.

I personally found the shirt’s message to be disgusting and nauseating. There is no place for such bigoted hate speech in our society, and neighborhoods. This allegation came to light in the press, almost eight years ago. I condemned the actions then, and I continue to condemn them now. I not only see a problem with these repulsive words on articles of clothing, I have a problem with this language in any conversation, or dialogue.

Philadelphia has come a long way. We must continue to move forward and band together, pushing our city, its neighborhoods, and its residents to prosperity.

Casper’s Place also had numerous complaints lodged against it for serving alcohol to minors, according to neighborhood residents and posts in online forums. Were you aware of these complaints? Did this play a role in Casper’s closing?

Casper’s Place (the business and associated liquor license) were sold for a negotiated price, at or above market value (based on the success of the business, and cooperation of the real estate ownership, KSC, in keeping the immediate surroundings clean, and the property itself maintained & well-kept), to the current owners, and operators. Casper’s Place did not close. Allegations and rumors did not play any role in the sale of Casper’s Place to the Parish Pub (another group of local residents who purchased the establishment).

As a part of the venture that owns the property, violations against a license at our address are a serious matter. Regarding the allegations of underage drinking violations at Casper’s Place, any findings by the Pennsylvania State Police, and the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) were addressed accordingly by Casper’s, and Casper’s instituted better practices. As the property owners, and good neighbors to both our commercial and residential surroundings, we would perform our own due diligence, regularly, to ensure that operations utilized all necessary preventive measures.

The establishment routinely had door attendants, who were RAMP-certified [minimally two attendants, depending on the amount of anticipated patrons, with respect to the fire code]. The attendants would each have an approved, yellow identification card scanner device. They were trained and instructed to inspect the identification, examine the particulars (images, holograms, etc.) on the identification, interrogate the patron on specifics (dates, address, etc.) of the identification, and if necessary, make a copy or photograph the identification for Casper’s records, and then have the prospective patron fill out what was known as a “931” form, issued by the PLCB. Additionally, bartenders and waitstaff received the RAMP training, too, as a second layer of responsibility.

Personally, in my role with the International Association of my trade union, I would be traveling to various cities along the East Coast organizing contractors, sub-contractors, and their respective workforce, from Monday through Friday. I would then return home to Philadelphia, and check on our properties (3510 and 3512).

I would talk with neighboring businesses, make inquiries to friends, family, and regular patrons of Casper’s about any irregularities or anomalies that arose during the past week. Issues would range from a clogged toilet to removing and painting over scribblings or graffiti. As property owners, we were strong believers in the “broken window” theory. Renew and replace immediately, or the inappropriate behavior appears to be accepted, and followed.

KSC did investigate all rumors, brought to our attention, through both word of mouth/hearsay and online posts. Our findings determined that the online posters, and those spreading the rumors were former employees, or antagonists of current employees associated with Casper’s Place (ex-partners, mutual admirers of the same person, patrons who may have been flagged for behavior unbecoming of the establishment, etc.)

Casper’s received letters of support from a local, parochial high school, a local boxing club, and a local, catholic youth organization when seeking a use variance from the City of Philadelphia for self-contained music, disc jockey music, live entertainment with dancing for its patrons. As property owners, and the applicant for the above referenced use variance, we felt obligated to notify the surrounding properties about our application, and the scheduled community meeting, even though the civic association handled neighborhood notifications. KSC Ventures received a letter of no opposition to the use variance.

Casper’s Place was a respectable partner, and supporter of the neighborhood; despite the unverified online posts, allowing people to stay in the shadows of blogs, forums and review pages, while attempting to tarnish a reputable, community-conscious business.

As property owners, KSC Ventures took every precaution to protect our investment, even receiving accolades through a Letter to the Editor in the Northeast Times, following a Shamrock Shuttle event where we organized a cleanup crew that cleaned the entire 3500 block of Cottman Avenue, both the even and odd sides, including the triangle at Cottman/Frankford/Ryan Avenues, at the crack of dawn on the immediate, following day.

Do you have any other business interests that voters should be aware of?

No. My only business interest is that of a partial interest/percentage in KSC, as a property owner, property manager, and commercial and residential landlord. The only properties that I am affiliated with is 3510 and 3512 Cottman Avenue, strictly related to the real estate parcels and their respective improvements.

You said that neither KSC (nor) Casper’s management authorized the shirts. You condemned the message, etc. But you never specified how the offensive shirts came to be — surely you must have known who made them? A patron or someone else?

These shirts first came to KSC Ventures’ attention when a neighbor called one of us and let us know that they saw a young male (mid-20s) walking along Frankford Avenue in a “Casper’s” (in quotes, as it wasn’t their apparel) shirt. We let the management at Casper’s know immediately. The neighbor had to look twice as the colors and type used weren’t the same as the actual establishment’s apparel colors, and type. I wish the neighbor had a smartphone and captured the image of the young male so he could be identified and asked, “Where did this shirt come from, how did you gain possession of this shirt?!?!”

This was the first and only sighting of the shirt for weeks, until both Casper’s and KSC Ventures received additional calls about two more young men in their mid-20s wearing these shirts, on separate occasions, and a different description than the initially witnessed young male, from weeks prior. How many shirts were there? That remains a mystery to both KSC Ventures and Casper’s as we had no knowledge of them, nor did we have anything to do with their design, manufacture, or distribution.

Based on eyewitness accounts, and a Casper’s management viewing (one idiot wore a shirt into the establishment, and management asked them to remove the shirt, when they refused, they were escorted out), we believe that those behind the shirts didn’t order, print, iron-on, etc. more than a dozen. The designing of these shirts, let along the manufacturing is appalling and hurtful.

KSC Ventures and Casper’s never found out, and other young males never confessed, who was behind the production and distribution of the shirts. Both KSC Ventures and Casper’s approached several individuals rumored to be “involved”, but none of the young males talked “out of school” or “gave name(s)” of who was the person responsible, although they couldn’t deny wearing them as they were eyewitness accounts from trusted neighbors and patrons. We never heard any reports of any young females wearing the shirt. We had our suspicions who the males possibly were, but without proof, there was little that Casper’s or KSC Ventures could do with just allegations.

Even though the typesetting, colors, etc. were not KSC Ventures, or Casper’s, both entities spread the verbal warning throughout the neighborhood that both entities would use whatever legal recourse we had on those individuals associated with manufacturing and distributing this despicable shirt. I’m not even sure what legal recourse we had as options, but we could have hired legal counsel to go down that road if the opportunity was there.