Hairdresser evicted during busy season
It’s an all-too-familiar scenario: Another storefront on a main drag goes dark.
“Until it happens to you, you can’t even explain how it feels. And it’s happening to so many Americans,” said Annie Buck, a Chico native who opened Hair to Eternity on East First Avenue 33 years ago. “You see all these businesses going out of business, but you don’t know the story behind them.”
Buck puts a face to the many small-business owners who have been forced to close by the poor economy. Her salon has survived through many tough economies in three decades.
She’s confident it would have survived this one, too, if the 7,000-square-foot commercial building on the northeast corner of East First and Mangrove avenues where she rents a space hadn’t changed hands in September. In November, the new owners—local law firm Peters, Rush, Habib & McKenna—gave her a 30-day eviction notice.
Buck, who was on a month-to-month lease, heard through rumor that the building had been sold, and she wasn’t contacted by the new owners until she canceled payment on October’s rent check, confused about whom to make it out to. “I got a phone call from a mean voice, and he said, ‘Why did you stop payment on the check? I’m the new owner,’ ” said Buck, sitting in a wicker chair in her quaint shop.
She says she asked the man on the line—who turned out to be Mark Habib—for proof of new ownership, and he brought her a few documents, including an e-mail exchange between a property-management company and the law firm.
In the meantime, the building’s former owners, Geri Lee, a local realtor, and her husband, Greg Jenkins, a widely known optometrist, told her the news. Lee told the CN&R the couple sold the building for personal reasons, and another company has plans to move into the unit she and her husband used to share.
In a brief phone interview, Habib would not elaborate on his plans for the building. He told the CN&R it was “not appropriate” to discuss the building, though he did say repairs will soon be made to it.
Buck, a tall woman with an outgoing personality, felt bad about the negative interactions she had with the law firm, so she sent a personable letter and a 12-item list of long-overdue repairs her unit needed.
She also told the firm about an incident in which a client in a wheelchair fell down her front steps, and offered to sit down to discuss remodeling. She knew a lot of work was needed, but hoped she could keep her shop open during construction. She was also prepared for her rent to increase, she said.
Buck rattled off a list of problems with the outside of her unit, including a shredded awning, a dilapidated sign, and termites that crawl out of the wood during summer. She also noted problems inside, including the lack of a working furnace and hot water, and faulty plumbing and wiring. “Their response to my letter was to hire an eviction attorney,” she said, twisting her eyebrows.
The firm gave her a 30-day notice demanding she vacate due to extensive work her unit needed to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“I don’t think I would have been asked to leave if I hadn’t asked for changes,” she said. “When I notified them of the wheelchair incident, it relieved me of liability if there was another incident.”
The four units that face Mangrove got a recent facelift, and Lee said she does not believe construction will be done on them, which would explain why Buck, whose unit is around the corner, is getting the boot while the empty Mangrove units have for-lease signs. Whatever the reasons behind her eviction, Buck maintains she could have stayed in business if she’d had more time to move.
“I’d have to find a new building, get financing, line up contractors, advertise and continue to do my clients, all at the same time,” she said.
Buck also faces a unique challenge. She specializes in hair replacement, prosthetics and extensions, and works with people who suffer from conditions ranging from cancer to alopecia (abnormal hair loss). Buck’s private shop—which is equipped with details such as a curtain—is necessary to make some clients feel comfortable.
“Hair loss is a debilitating illness,” she said. “It’s a very sensitive situation to trust you enough to talk about it. I can’t just go into a busy salon and rent a space.”
And Buck can’t move her business home, because she lost her house last weekend, on Dec. 4. A few months ago, she made the financial decision to surrender her house in order to keep her business, never imagining she’d soon be evicted from her shop.
For now, Buck is scrambling to clear the space and juggle her busiest time of the year. Her deadline to move out is Friday, Dec. 10. She said she understands life brings change, but wishes her eviction had been handled better.
“It feels like a death in the family,” she said, while wiping tears from her eyes and looking around the space where she watched her two sons grow up. “The truth is this is a time when all of us human beings are trying to help each other, not make things more difficult for one another. We should encourage small businesses to stay open, you know?”