April 02, 2020

Dance club may be forced to close

SANFORD — An all-night dance club whose pulsating rhythms draw teen-agers from New Hampshire and Massachusetts has run afoul of a town official.

Merge, which opened last August, has become one of southern Maine’s hippest clubs for teens. They turn out for post-midnight “raves” — all-night, alcohol-free dance parties hosted by a disc jockey playing techno music.

Paul Demers, Sanford’s code enforcement officer, says the club has safety code violations and is not allowed to hold after-hours dances under its license.

“We’re not trying to put anybody out of business,” he said. “They’re not licensed to operate after 1 a.m. and the code problems are a serious public safety issue.”

Merge is open Thursday through Sunday nights. On Saturdays, according to police and neighbors, the club is quiet until midnight, But after that, the parking lot at the intersection of Route 109 and Smada Drive quickly fills up with cars, many bearing out-of-state license plates.

The owner, 27-year-old Richard Bernier, said the late-night activities at his club should be considered private because the doors are locked at 1 a.m. He said anyone arriving before then can pay $10 and dance all night. No one is allowed in after 1 a.m., he said.

“I want people to know that I’m doing this for the good of the kids in Sanford and kids all over,” Bernier said. “The town needs to be at ease that I’m not doing anything wrong.”

Earlier this month, the town sent Bernier a certified letter detailing the code violations and reminding him that his license and occupancy permit state he must close at 1 a.m. The letter, signed by Demers, asked Bernier to submit a “plan of corrective action” by Wednesday.

The 34 code violations, revealed during an inspection in October by the State Fire Marshal’s Office, range from accessibility problems for people with disabilities to the lack of a fire alarm.

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