Tri-County Flea Market on Hempstead Turnpike in Levittown has changed ownership as of Feb. 1 and some vendors in the flea market fear they may be forced to move on.
Tri-County owner, Trade Town Industries, has moved out and Apogee Retail NY has signed a new lease for the building, taking over the Tri-County business. The flea market will be open six days a week; closed only on Tuesdays, as opposed to the four-day week they did business before.
Vendors in the flea market were notified mid-January of the Feb. 1 change, giving them little time to adjust to the new company and new policies put in place by Apogee.
In a letter given to vendors, Trade Town states, “Trade Town Inc. (Tri-County) has transferred ownership of the market to Apogee Retail NY, effective February 1, 2010. The new owner, Apogee Retail NY, is not assuming any existing Trade Town Licensing agreements. Unless you have entered into a new licensing agreement with Apogee by Jan. 31, 2010, your license will be terminated on that date. You will have no right to continue to have access to operate your business in the Tri-County Flea Market after Jan. 31, 2010. We wish you all the best of luck in the future.”
According to a letter issued by Apogee to flea market vendors, “Starting Feb. 1, Apogee will operate the Tri-County Flea Market. Apogee plans to open a Unique store in a portion of the first floor and basement of the premises. Apogee will be offering licenses to qualified vendors for a Unique Bazaar and Unique Jewelry Exchange.”
Unique, a second-hand thrift store, will essentially run the vendors out of the flea market, Yasha Tehrani, an attorney representing a group of the 30 or so jewelry vendors in the Tri-County Flea Market said. Apogee owns a Unique store on Old Country Road in Westbury.
“They’re bullying them tremendously,” Michael Barrows, another attorney from the law firm, told the Levittown Tribune. “Saying if you haven’t signed a new lease with us by Feb. 1 you will be locked out and any merchandise that remains will be Apogee’s to do with as we please.”
Orlo Ellison, director of development for Apogee, said no such thing will happen to vendors who don’t sign a license agreement.
“We’re not trying to capture anything; we’re not trying to hurt anyone,” he told the Tribune. “We want everyone to go through this as easily as possible. There will be a couple of vendors that won’t stay and we’d like to help them get out of here as easily as possible.”
“We will have a formula for them…an agreement for short-term storage to allow reasonable time to come in and recover their stuff,” he said.
The jewelry vendors on the second floor of the flea market, some of whom have been there for 25 years, have retained the legal counsel of Barrows and Tehrani, PLLC primarily because they say that Trade Town has not returned the much-needed security deposits to the vendors.
“The new landlords are spiking the rent and asking for new security deposits,” said Tehrani. “We’re hearing the old landlord has to go to his accountant to do the paperwork but really he’s giving them a run-around. They’re supposed to put the security deposits in an escrow account, an interest-bearing account and he should be able to write the vendors a check in two seconds. That’s not the case here.”
Trade Town management did not return several calls for comment.
Tehrani said the rents differ from vendor to vendor but that vendors are worried their rent will go up.
On the contrary, Ellison said that although the rent does differ from vendor to vendor, on average, vendors will be paying less rent than with Trade Town, not more. He said that some vendors’ rents would be going down and others’ would be going up.
An employee of Tri-County, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of retribution, speculated that the rents are going up because instead of bringing in vendors’ rent for the whole first floor, Apogee will only be renting a portion of it to vendors, as they have stated. The other portion will be used for Unique merchandise, he said.
Ellison said that the basement will house Unique and only a small portion of the first floor would hold Unique merchandise; the rest will remain open for current vendors to stay there.
The vendors’ leases with Trade Town were month-to-month leases and Apogee will continue with that practice of month-to-month licenses, Ellison said. He said he’s willing to give some leeway to vendors who want to stay but don’t have their security deposit yet. He said that as long as they show proof of insurance to Apogee with intent to stay, Apogee will accommodate them.
Ellison said that although Trade Town and Apogee both informed vendors that license agreements are due by Feb. 1, “we are making some concessions knowing it’s hard for vendors to get their security deposits together. We’re accommodating to the fact that they seem to have difficulty.”
Barrows and Tehrani estimated Trade Town owes about $80,000 in vendors’ security deposits.
With higher rent for some vendors, no return of security money from Trade Town and security money due to Apogee, some vendors have no choice but to leave.
“Instead of them doing the right thing, they’re jacking up rents,” Barrows said. “To not give these people who have been here for 25 years, the right to stay there is wrong.”
Ellison said he believes that most of the vendors are staying and said that all the jewelry vendors he’s spoken to are staying.
Most vendors who were willing to speak to the Tribune were unsure about what their new rent would be, whether they were staying or going and what would become of other vendors.
“The owner here still hasn’t met with the guy,” one jewelry vendor said, referring to Ellison last week. “We’re supposed to sign for a new license but we don’t know for how much.”
In addition to the need to get their security deposits refunded, the jewelry vendors are worried about the sort of clientele a first-floor thrift store will bring in; not the clientele that will buy the upscale jewelry upstairs, Tehrani said.
“If they were playing nice it would be one thing,” Barrows said. “They’re bringing the dregs of society into Levittown to buy $3 Nikes with mud on them.”
In response to the claim that lesser merchandise will bring in lesser clientele Ellison said, “The Tri-County Flea Market doesn’t serve Levittown. The demographic of the area is a 30-min drive time. We chose the location because Levittown has a great future and is centrally located within the Island, with a large population. It’s also a safe neighborhood. We don’t run our stores in rough neighborhoods.”
“We’re trying to make it a clean and interesting place to shop,” he said. “I think the community and customers will like what we’re doing here.”