How to deal with a business that is never open

by Vanessa Gates
(Crockett, Ca. 94525 USA)

Visitor Question: We are a little township still with 3,000 people in Crockett, Ca.94525 (bay area). There is a business name removed in the center of town, that has been there for 15 or more years. It has big windows with items that never change, and it says by appointment only you can possible get in. I have never seen anyone meet anybody at this business in all these years.

I, like a lot of other residents frankly are tired of looking at the same displays and feel it's been there long enough with no business going on at all ever. We feel that there could be a much better suited business in this space that would actually be open offering something to residents.

I want to start a petition to get rid of a business that serves no purpose for anyone, and we are all tired of looking at it. Many years ago I owned my own Deli in town open everyday.

How should I approach this issue? Is a petition the right form to address this issue?

Editors Reply: Yes, it is so annoying when a business owner leaves a tired display in the window and does not even appear to use the space. You are not alone in this situation.

The answer somewhat depends on the circumstances. First we suggest finding out if the business owner also owns the building. Sometimes if market demand is sluggish, a building owner will hold onto a property and just use it for storage. If the building owner and business owner are two different people, the building owner still may count the business owner as a personal friend and allow the business to keep using the space as storage without paying rent, at least until a paying tenant comes along.

So discovering the ownership of both the building and the business are critical. Probably you can learn who owns the building, if you don't know, by visiting your county clerk's office. We say "probably" because sometimes commercial real estate is owned by people who are intent on hiding their identities, succeeding at this by having all correspondence sent to an attorney or by creating a limited liability corporation.

Then ask your township for the name of the business owner. They will have this information if they require a business license or sometimes even if they don't.

If the business and property are owned by this same individual, this is the hardest situation to deal with. In that case, you may well want to start a petition, but you would have to decide whether you are presenting the petition to the owner or to the township government.

If you intend that the petition be addressed to the township, ask your elected officials what they believe they could do about the situation. If there is a township attorney, ask that person too. Often if elected officials in a small jurisdiction don't know what their options are, they just say that there is nothing they can do.

If there is any shred of evidence from anyone that the township could exert some pressure on the building and business owner, go ahead and start your petition. (We have a page on this website about how to start a petition, if you haven't done that before. Use the search feature to find it.)

Now let's deal with the possibility that the building owner and the business owner are separate individuals, unrelated in any way that you can discover.

That's when you need to exert some pressure on the building owner to take care of the situation. Ask for a personal meeting, and if you are able to obtain one, try to bring some other neighbors with you. Explain the aggravation and ask what the building owner is doing to try to attract a better tenant.

Be prepared to be told this is none of your business. Especially if the business owner actually is paying rent and not complaining about the building, many building owners won't want to get involved. Frankly the township can't force the building owner to take any action in this event, and the township would have to use social pressure and persuasion to try to change the situation. But you residents can use social pressure and persuasion as well.

You might still want to use a petition in this case, but your goal would be to inspire the township to get involved in the persuasion campaign alongside you.

If you find a discouraged building owner who would like a better tenant but doesn't know how to find one, you could encourage that owner to ask the county and state economic development offices for help.

Probably the fact that you are in this situation in the first place means that demand for commercial real estate in your township isn't very brisk. In a healthy market most building owners will keep raising the rent until tenants that use the building for storage just refuse to pay.

So looking at the big picture, the remedy for this is a livelier township, more people shopping locally, and a prosperous population. But until then, your petition idea just may be a good one.

  1. Community Development
  2. Visitor Questions
  3. Business Never Open

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