Sears reopens after lockout

Published 8:36 am Wednesday, March 17, 2010

FRANKLIN—The owners of the Franklin Sears franchise were literally locked out of their business last week after a dispute involving the store’s landlord.

Mickey Rosenfeld, who co-owns the business with his wife, Ann, said the dispute with the owner of the Armory Plaza shopping center has since been resolved and his store is once again open for business.

“The landlord kicked us out for non-payment of the rent in February,” Rosenfeld said Tuesday, adding that the landlord wanted an unspecified amount to cover back rent and his share of common-area expenses at the shopping center.

“He wanted all of that money up front,” Rosenfeld said. “I couldn’t do that. I didn’t have $3,000 sitting around to do that.”

Angelica Beltran, leasing agent for Wheeler Real Estate Co. in Virginia Beach, identified the landlord as Christopoulos Family LLC of Virginia Beach. Both declined to comment on the nature of the lockout and the subsequent negotiations.

Rosenfeld said the lockout began the evening of March 7.

“They went in that night and changed the locks 30 minutes after we closed,” Rosenfeld said. “The police called and told me that the property manager was down there changing the locks.”

After some negotiations, Rosenfeld said, the landlord agreed to unlock the store five days later, on Friday morning. The store had been closed for four business days.

“We were only closed for four days, but it seemed like three months,” Rosenfeld said. “A lot of people came to the store to make their payments and to pick up merchandise that they had bought just a few days before but were coming back to get it. That was a mess.”

Rosenfeld said he wants people to know that his business is open again and that — for the next 32 months anyway — he plans to stay in the Armory Plaza shopping center.

“A lot of people have come back because I hung banners out and they saw them,” Rosenfeld said. “I don’t go into a lot of details (about what happened), but I just tell them that we got things worked out. But it basically cost Ann and I what we had put away for our retirement.”

He added, “It was a win for us because we negotiated a new lease for the remainder of our time there, the next 32 months. It’s a win for the landlord because he doesn’t have an empty building, and two-thirds of the shopping center is empty already. And it’s a win for Sears.”

Rosenfeld said he may move his business to downtown Franklin after the 32-month lease expires, but he isn’t sure. His primary focus is on getting his business to survive.

“We have a great number of people that are faithful about supporting local business, and we have just as many that either don’t know we’re there, or know we’re there but don’t know what we have. We can get anything that Sears sells. For people who are ‘techy’ and do a lot of online shopping, if we do it through the store they never have to pay shipping.”

The Rosenfelds, who live in Zuni, also own a Sears franchise in Suffolk. The Franklin store has 3,500 square feet of sales space and about 1,200 square feet for stock.

“We have to perform flawlessly for the next 32 months,” Rosenfeld said. “We’re right back to square one. We’re here to serve the community. But all that we went through will be for naught if people don’t shop with us. We’ll just end up in bankruptcy.”