Technically, it wasn’t an eviction, but for three companies that had been in business at the Cielo Vista shopping center for decades, being ordered out on 30 days’ notice felt like one.
Sun Travel, Hair Gallery and Rainbow Manifiestos had been at 1111 Hawkins for 23 to 33 years when they received notices in June and July to be out in 30 days from Zarapelli II LLC, a company owned by Dr. Joseph Furlong that had bought the strip center to expand his medical practice.
Having to move the businesses so quickly was a problem, but it’s what happened then that really made those business owners mad.
Paul Coleman, owner of Sun Travel, was the last of the three to be told that his month-to-month lease was being canceled after 23 years in business there. He told his Facebook followers about it on July 2.
“We are looking for a new home – stay tuned!” he wrote, referring to the new owners as Physician’s Vascular Services, Furlong’s practice.
That post drew a cease and desist letter from El Paso attorney John Dickey on July 15 telling Coleman to remove any reference to Furlong’s practice as the property owner or face potential legal action.
Coleman’s Facebook post now refers to Furlong as Zarapelli LLC’s manager and registered agent and medical director of the practice, which is accurate.
On July 23, Coleman posted a flyer on Facebook announcing Sun Travel’s move from the Hawkins location to 1718 N. Zaragoza.
But on Aug. 1, he posted a message that began, “Wow … a lot can change in 24 hours.”
“We posted a sign on the door letting valued clients know where to find us at our new Eastside office located at 1718 N. Zaragosa,” his post read. “The new owner/landlord (Zarapelli II LLC) removed our sign and posted a large new sign … directing our clients who come looking for us to visit our competitors.”
The professionally prepared poster that filled the six-foot tall window panel next to the former door to Sun Travel read, “Now you can schedule your vacations at the following agencies.”
It listed the names, addresses and phone numbers of Sun Travel’s competitors – Buck Rogers Travel, Fiesta World Travel, Travel Del Sol and VIP Travel Services.
“Sorry for the inconvenience,” it read at the bottom.
The same thing had already happened to the other two businesses that had to move out earlier.
Coleman’s Facebook post, accompanied by a photo of the poster listing his competitors, generated a slew of comments similar to this:
“So sad anyone would treat his fellow local business owners like this. So disheartening … but I’m happy you found a new spot.”
To the surprise of the three former tenants at 8111 Hawkins, their empty spaces are now up for lease again.
“The part that’s so baffling to me is that they kicked out tenants that had been there 30-plus years and were paying every month, and now they have the spaces up for lease again and they’re unoccupied,” Coleman said.
Victor Firth, an attorney representing Zarapelli LLC and Furlong, said the tenants at 1111 Hawkins were on month-to-month leases and have no legitimate complaints.
“When my client buys the building, we’re buying it not to have rent from tenant A or tenant B, we’re buying it for expansion,” he said. “There’s an acre and a half, and there are plans afoot to expand that building, modernize it and grow our business into a lot of this space.
“My job is to notify those tenants that their leases are on a month-to-month basis and are to be terminated,” Firth said. “There’s nothing wrong with that. … It’s just strictly business.”
Asked why the new owner would remove the former tenants’ notices to customers of their new address and replace them with posters listing their competitors, Firth said it may have been because of what was said online early on.
“Maybe because there was some misinformation being given out by the tenants on their mass media accounts,” Firth said. “There’s nothing done wrong by this landlord.
“Dr. Furlong is a good man in this community and is doing a huge investment that is going to turn into a nice improvement of that old building.”
Alejandro and Laura Acosta, owners of Rainbow Manifiestos Supplements, had been in the Hawkins strip the longest, since 1984, and were the first to get the 30-day notice to move on May 28.
Their company offers a variety of services, including sales tax returns, for residents of Mexico who order goods from online sites in the U.S. or buy them directly on the U.S. side and take them back to Mexico.
Business was good until the move, Laura Acosta said.
“We were just in shock,” she said. “I said, ‘Please, please, I’ve been here 36 years. Please, give us more time,’ but they wouldn’t negotiate. It was very traumatic for us.”
She said one of Furlong’s employees told her she could leave a notice with her new address on the door when she left.
But it was replaced with a poster referring her customers to her primary competitor, Melek USA, and listing the addresses of their six El Paso locations.
“The obvious intent was to make our customers think that we had gone out of business,” Acosta wrote.
She said the move has wrecked her business, which is down 80% at her new location, 6973 Gateway East.
Patricia Duran, owner of Patricia’s Hair Gallery, had been in business at the Hawkins strip for 33 years when she received her notice June 1.
She was particularly surprised because Furlong was one of her customers.
But when she moved, leaving a small sign telling customers where her new location is, it was replaced with a poster like the others directing people to Sports Clips, Master Cuts and five other salons.
That poster and the others have since been replaced with ElPasoStrong posters.
Now in business at 1858 Trawood, Suite B, Duran said she and her business were devastated by the move.
“I lost 15 pounds in a month,” she said. “It was hard to find another place, nerve-racking, and then having to clean it up.
“I lost two employees, and I have customers I haven’t seen since.”
Email El Paso Inc. reporter David Crowder at email@example.com or call (915) 534-4422, ext. 122 and (915) 630-6622.