Earlier today, business partners Gillian Clark and Robin Smith dropped this bomb on the General Store’s Facebook page:
“It’s with heavy hearts we’re announcing that The General Store is closed. For the entire 4+ years we’ve been involved with this building we have been bullied by the landlords. The landlord has not paid his back taxes and the county is taking back the building. We want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for being more than just customers. We consider all of you friends.”
As complicated as that tale sounds, the real one has even more twists. Montgomery County confirmed this afternoon that the owner of the property at 6 Post Office Road (the address of the General Store in Silver Spring), had been delinquent on its 2009 taxes. The owner, 6 Post Office LLC, owed the county $4,788.73 from that year, which the company didn’t pay by the Sept. 30, 2009, deadline. Then on June 14 of last year, the county sold the tax lien to a “certificate holder” for $5,557.05.
A certificate holder is essentially like a real-estate flipper, an individual or company that buys liens and sells them back to the property owner at a markup. To be square with the county, 6 Post Office LLC must now pay its certificate holder $6,418, as well as the back taxes for 2010, which total $5,005.52.
The certificate holder of the 2009 lien has the option of pushing 6 Post Office LLC into foreclosure proceedings to get its money. But, according to Montgomery County spokeswoman Donna Bigler, “the property has not gone to foreclosure.”
The strange thing here is that, depending on the lease, the property owner’s tax problems shouldn’t affect the business that leases the space, the General Store in this case. So what’s going on? Clark e-mailed this afternoon to shed more light on the situation:
“The notice from the county about the back taxes was stapled to our door one morning,” Clark wrote. “And shortly after that, the process server came to insist that we come in to landlord/tenant court to face charges that we were behind in our rent.”
She continued: “Considering our difficulty opening, and debt load associated with it; we made arrangements to pay a weekly rent that has been in effect for over a year. We were paying as agreed (the landlord even giving us a thumbs up to a creditor just weeks ago). He suddenly declared us in default and he wanted us to pay him an unfounded and ridiculous amount of money and he wanted it now. We fear he’s just not able to pay the debt and tax bills associated with the place and suing us and gaining possession of the property will make a much neater end for him.”
Clark wrote that a judge today awarded possession of the property to 6 Post Office LLC.
This isn’t the first time the General Store owners have had run-ins with their landlord. Even before Clark and Smith opened the restaurant in early 2009, the landlord had allegedly been demanding rent although Clark and Smith were still dealing with the problems of restoring the historic (and run-down) Silver Spring post office, a process that dragged on months longer than expected. In defense of an owner who has proven elusive so far, Clark and Smith have been known for generating their own controversies, too.
According to Montgomery County records, 6 Post Office LLC has its offices at 9201 Colesville Road in Silver Spring, which is the exact same address as Mrs. K’s Toll House’s. 6 Post Office LLC’s corporate charter from 2009 includes the name Spiro Gioldasis, who is also the long-time general manager at the historic restaurant on Colesville Road. When I called Mrs. K’s and asked for Gioldasis, the woman on the line said he wasn’t there, but confirmed that he’s the owner of the property at 6 Post Office Rd.
Regardless of the General Store’s quick and unceremonial demise, Clark and Smith are happy with their work there. Writes Clark:
“We are grateful and proud of having the opportunity to be The General Store and to serve this community as best as we were able. We took this eyesore of a building and made it something great. So many others drove by it and crossed it off of their list (other chefs, architects, business people). We were undaunted and stubborn. At times we came close to giving up and sometimes I think maybe we should have turned away. But I’m proud of what we did here.”
Clark notes that in its brief existence, the General Store appeared three times on the Food Network, including once last year on “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives.”
“I hope the New General Store or whatever takes its place when the landlord gets someone else to lease the space, “ Clark adds, “thrives for the sake of this community that has always been so generous and supportive.”
Clark says the General Store’s closing will not affect the other restaurants that she and Smith plan to open, including the Kitchen on K Street in NoMa. “We suddenly have all kinds of time to work on the new places,” she notes.