Bar of Soap, a popular bar and laundromat in North Asheville, is closing “with a heavy heart” following a change in the building’s ownership.
“The building at 333 Merrimon has changed hands,” reads the business’ Facebook page. “The folks at Del Vecchios have made a deal with the new owners, which is forcing us to leave. We have been given just over a week to vacate. This is not how we expected this year to go.”
Bar owner Sean McNeal‘s grievances, aired via Twitter and Facebook, detailed his feeling “blindsided” by being “pushed out” of the building.
Del Vecchio owner Robert Clark, however, says he was unaware of any dealings or lack thereof between McNeal and the new owners.
“What he did or didn’t do, I don’t know. In the interest of my family and my business, I negotiated a new lease. That’s what you’ve got to do if the building changes hands, right?” says Clark. “It’s as simple as that. There was nothing backhanded.”
The foreclosure sale took place on December 23, 2014, and although the buyers, PJA Realty, remained in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., a local representative was available to discuss implications of the new ownership. The process, Clark and the buyers claim, was not sudden.
McNeal’s frustrations, however, stem from his inability to reach the new owners after the purchase. His quest for contact information was fruitless, even with the local contact person.
“Why would I not have renegotiated a lease at a place that I’ve been at for years … if I was given that opportunity?” he comments, describing a general lack of transparency surrounding the transition. “It doesn’t make any sense.”
BY THE BOOK
“We bought the building at public auction at the courthouse legally,” says PJA partner Adam Davis. “The proper notices were sent to the previous owner. … Everything was done by the book.”
Clark approached the Florida-based investors about renewing his lease. McNeal, however, says both the local rep and Clark instructed him to wait until the new owners got in touch with him — a correspondence he claims never happened. His first official notice, McNeal says, was a law firm’s instructions to vacate the premises, post-marked Wednesday, Jan. 28.
“The only reason that his lease was not signed was because he never contacted us. We have one thing in mind, and that is securing our investment and doing whatever is best for the community,” says Davis. “Clark is very easy to deal with, and we’re going to move forward with Del Vecchio’s.”
PJA is now considering other applicants for the remaining vacant space.
“I did notice [the emphasis on local business] when I was in Asheville,” says Davis. “I agree with it wholeheartedly. The new owners don’t live there, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have the community’s interest at heart. … It’s not like the WalMart’s coming in. … We think small too, and we appreciate the homegrown feel to Asheville.”
The PJA team categorizes Del Vecchio’s as a local operation despite its franchise status, since it is owned and operated by Clark, a resident of Asheville for nine years.
“It’s not a chain in the way that you would think of McDonalds, because the owner and operator is there everyday. … Realistically, that is locally owned.”