Store to Close After Court Fight, and This Stately Chariot Could Be Yours

IMG_3223Stephen Rex Brown Ronald Bell, seated in a Swedish throne used in an opera, must close his 10-year-old business by April 20.

Ronald Bell is having a going out of business sale, but the feud with his landlord may not be going anywhere. Following a lengthy dispute over money owed to the co-op at 48 Great Jones Street, Mr. Bell is closing Art & Industry, his 10-year-old store packed with mid-century modern furniture, art and knick-knacks.

At the entrance is a Swedish throne with wheels, used in an opera, that’s marked down to $3,500. An old console like the ones used at Remote Lounge, the voyeuristic drinks den that used to be around the corner on Bowery, is a mere $500. A disco vision player (a precursor to Laserdiscs) is also $500. (See below for photos of the stuff on sale.) Mr. Bell said that merchandise he hasn’t been able to get rid of for 30 years is at last flying off the shelves thanks to the sale — even Jude Law dropped in on Thursday to check out the bargains.

IMG_3191Stephen Rex Brown The sign on the entrance.

But a sign at the entrance to the store hints at the acrimony that spilled into housing court: “To those who are forcing us out of business, and you know who you are, we will pray for you!”

As with most landlord-tenant showdowns, it’s all about the money. Mr. Bell says his landlord, Ellen Fanning, the president of the co-op board, suddenly pressed him for additional money after getting dollar signs in her eyes in 2010. He was only paying around $11,000 a month, and a new tenant, he said, could pay more than double for the spacious gallery. Ms. Fanning countered that Mr. Bell simply stopped paying rent in 2008 after business tanked during the economic recession.

“We tried to avoid going to court like any rational group would, but my opinion is that he took the tack to stay rent-free as long as he could,” she said.

The case was settled in February, with Mr. Bell agreeing to pay around $50,000, while walking away from a bill for at least a year’s-worth of rent and fees.

Now, Art & Industry must close by Friday. But there’s a possibility the two could face off in the courtroom again. Mr. Bell was close to subletting his spacious showroom to David Alhadeff, the owner of Future Perfect across the street, but at the last second the deal fell apart. He suspected that Ms. Fanning interfered in negotiations, preferring that Mr. Bell get out altogether rather than sublet. “If he gets a primary lease, I’m going to sue both of them, no question about it,” Mr. Bell said.

Ms. Fanning said she had nothing to do with the art gallery possibly moving in. “I think something went on between Future Perfect and Ron,” she said. “He scuttled the deal.”

She added that some renovations needed to be done to the space before they could begin searching for a new tenant. Mr. Bell had no plans to retire.

“I was doing mid-century modern before people even knew what mid-century modern was,” he said. “Is it a matter of national security? No, I don’t delude myself. But I do it well, and it’s been good to me — until I ran into all this.”

Admarket’s flickrSLiDR.Stephen Rex Brown