Thursday, August 18, 2005
On a brick wall in Wildberries, the popular Pacific Grove café, customers have scrawled angry words of protest.
“Talk is cheap,” says one. “PG—America’s last hometown. SOLD!” reads another. And then there’s: “People don’t go by their word!” and “We have just begun to fight,” and “Bricks don’t make up a building, it’s the life of the community that occupy the walls. Love, soul and togetherness make this place what it is!”
It’s an impressive outpouring of emotion from the rabidly devoted regulars who have sipped café owner Theresa Arnott’s potent coffee and snarfed down her baked goods for years.
Arnott says she knows 90 percent of her clientele by their first names. These regulars are so dedicated to Arnott they followed her, en masse, when she moved the café from its original home—a 17th Street Victorian—to its present location—inside Bookworks, a book store owned by Bill and Linda Buckhout, located at 667 Lighthouse Ave.
“We consciously made the move to the bookstore last September,” Arnott says. “I wanted to downsize. It was supposed to be a win-win situation for both parties involved.”
She says she didn’t see it coming when Bill Buckhout told her he’d sold Bookworks, and gave her 30 days to move her business. That happened on July 29. So now Arnott’s got less than two weeks to get out.
“I never even knew it was listed,” Arnott says. “I didn’t know about it until a week before I got my notice. I basically heard it through the grapevine. They really had no contact with us at all.”
To make matters worse, Arnott says she was in negotiations to sell her business when she found out her lease had been terminated.
“The deal is gone,” she says. “There’s basically nothing to sell. There’s no lease and there’s no place to run the business.”
Arnott opened Wildberries in Bookworks last September 2004, after extensive remodeling at her own expense. But she says she didn’t get around to signing a month-to-month lease until March of this year because Buckhout was “never available.”
“We’re the viable part of this business, not his bookstore.” she says. “He sold us. I came in and completely remodeled all this. I put everything here into place. We’re the only reason his bookstore is even still in business to sell in the first place and he sold us.”
Arnott also claims that Buckhout verbally promised he would give her the first opportunity to buy Bookworks, should he decide to sell.
“I don’t recall ever telling her that,” Buckhout says. “We’ve been struggling with the business for the last three years. When Theresa came to us to rent that space, we told her we were struggling and there wasn’t much future. She knew what she was getting into.”
Buckhout, who has owned and operated Bookworks for the last four years with his wife, Linda, says the bookstore’s sales have been steadily dropping by 20 percent over the last four years. He says he had no financial option but to take the offer.
“We found out about the offer, made a counteroffer the next day, the guy accepted it and immediately the next day we gave her notice,” Buckhout says. “That was the best we could do. It was a 60-day escrow and he wanted the space unencumbered by the coffee shop.”
Contrary to Arnott’s story, Buckhout claims he “tried and tried” to get Arnott to sign a long-term lease that would have expired in September 2006. He says she refused. So, as a result, they agreed on a month-to-month lease, which only requires Buckhout to give Arnott 30-day notice.
“If she had signed a long-term lease we would have been the ones who would have been in trouble because we couldn’t have sold the business,” Buckhout says.
Arnott admits that she discussed a long-term lease with Buckhout, but says that when they sat down in March, he only offered her the month-to-month deal.
When asked about the new owner, Buckhout says the buyer is local but wants to remain anonymous because of the acrimony stirred up by the sale.
“We’ve had two people come in to the bookstore and accost us and tell us we were screwing them over and all this,” Buckhout says. “As a result, the buyer would rather not be identified until it’s a done deal.”
Arnott admits that her regulars are “very upset and disillusioned” but says Buckhout’s tale of being accosted is an “exaggeration.”
“Two people approached him in his bookstore with questions and he responded by telling them they weren’t welcome on this side of the store and that he’d call the police if they didn’t leave,” Arnott says.
She says she’s more concerned with what she’ll do come Aug. 31.
“As far as moving, we’re exploring all our options right now,” Arnott says. “It’s not like moving your office. When it comes to food and drink your options are very limited.”
Although Arnott’s future is uncertain, one thing’s for sure: If she can find another space for Wildberries, her customers will follow.
Number of calories in a Starbucks Venti, Double
Chocolate Chip, Frappuccino Blended Crème with whipped
cream. Source: Starbucks Coffee Company.