DocuDrama: Village Scandal Faces Eviction

IMG_1024Lauren Carol Smith Wendy Barrett’s store may soon be evicted by city marshals.

Another longstanding business in the neighborhood is on the brink of closing its doors.

The Village Scandal, a 16-year-old hat shop, is facing eviction from its space on Seventh Street, and the owner is pointing the finger at her property management company.

Wendy Barrett, the milliner who owns the popular shop, has become so desperate that she has written a message on a sandwich board in front of her store asking sympathizers to petition the management company, A.J. Clarke, to stop the eviction.

“I never have a moment in the store where I’m truly relaxed,” said Ms. Barrett, “I’m truly being tortured by this.” She added that the showdown has been brewing since 2004 and only recently come to a head (the various twists and turns are documented in a lengthy YouTube video.)

IMG_0994Lauren Carol Smith The sign outside of Village Scandal.

At the heart of Ms. Barrett’s case is a dispute over $63,257 in back rent and real estate taxes that have been accruing since 2004; money that her lawyer, Andrew Molbert, says she does not owe. In court documents, Mr. Molbert points to a letter from A.J. Clarke agreeing to waive the taxes that resulted in the hefty sum. Only 15 days prior, he says, the property management company backtracked on its demands.

“Suddenly they sent her a bill for $50,000 more than they had originally said, and brought this case days after,” Mr. Molbert said.

A property manager with A.J. Clarke, Steve Kaplan — who Ms. Barrett singles out on her sign — would not go into details regarding Village Scandal because of the ongoing court case.

But Ms. Barrett said the company has been relentless in its pursuit of her eviction.

“It’s been a deliberate manipulation to keep me in eviction status,” she said. “This can’t be looked at as a bookkeeping error.”

A ruling in June 2 cleared the way for Ms. Barrett to receive the eviction order eight days later. Now, that eviction is pending a ruling by an appellate court regarding whether Mr. Molbert will be able to reargue Ms. Barrett’s case. Mr. Molbert estimated that decision could take around six months.

IMG_1000Lauren Carol SmithA display in the shop, which counts has sold hats to the likes of Jimmy Fallon and Eva Mendes.

In a letter, Ms. Barrett’s cousin, Gail Bressler, who is a vice president at the New York State Housing Finance Agency, wrote that she was appalled by the conduct of Mr. Kaplan during two meetings.

“Mr. Kaplan also said that Wendy did not owe taxes based on all the payments she made and that they would have to go through the records and make the necessary adjustments. They never did this.” Ms. Bressler wrote. “In all my professional real estate career I have never seen a more corrupt and abusive corporate culture than the one practiced and encouraged at this firm.”

For now, Ms. Barrett is struggling to cope with her business being in limbo. Her previous lawyer’s failure to show up to a critical court date reduced the odds she’ll be able to reargue her case. The turmoil surrounding many of the longstanding businesses in the East Village — St. Mark’s Bookshop being the most recent example — only adds to her anxiety.

“There is an epidemic in this neighborhood,” Ms. Barrett said. “The flavor, the culture of the neighborhood is changing. It’s becoming a big shopping mall.”

The Eviction of Village ScandalNew York County Civil Court