Town goes to court over disputed lease

The Town of Haymarket is asking a Prince William Circuit Court judge to release it from a lease with its tenant, the Haymarket Grocery. But the motion, filed Wednesday, quickly becomes more confusing.

Haymarket is also asking the judge to decide who the legal tenant is, since two different parties have staked claims to the grocery.

The quandary revolves around the Haymarket Grocery, one of several buildings on a block of property in downtown Haymarket known as Town Center. The town is trying to sell the property, but its efforts have been complicated since two of the buildings on the land were condemned by the city’s building inspector in January. One of those condemned buildings is the Haymarket Grocery.

When the Town of Haymarket purchased Town Center from local business owner Alan C. Gossom in May 2000, it acquired Gossom’s tenant at the Haymarket Grocery. John K. Jinn, of Fairfax, leased the building currently housing the Haymarket Grocery from Gossom just 15 days before it was sold to the town.

The current store was not the first grocery store located on that site. Haymarket town historian Sarah Turner believes that a grocery store has existed on or near that spot since the town’s founding. If that is true, Jinn was but one in a long line of grocery store owners in Haymarket. In 2002, Jinn sold the business to Rye Sung and Jung Kyu Lee, of Bristow. Jinn’s lease with the town was assigned to the Lees in October 2002, in a document signed by Jinn, the Lees and Haymarket Mayor John R. “Jack” Kapp.

In March, the town served notice to the Grocery Store, terminating the lease and informing the tenants they would have to quit the premises. Now, both Jinn and the Lees have retained attorneys and are claiming they are the tenants whose rights need protecting.

Responding to the town’s letter, Jinn’s attorney said that the Lees are occupying the Grocery Store under a “Management Agreement ? between the Haymarket Grocery, Inc. and Rye Sung Lee ? and that Jinn is still the tenant under the May 1, 2000 lease,” according to the town’s motion.

According to the town’s motion, the Lees’ attorney contacted the town in May, saying “the Lees have purchased the business [from Jinn] and are the owner of Haymarket Grocery, Inc., and are the tenants of the building.”

The town’s attorney, Timothy M. Purnell, points out clauses in the original lease releasing the town from the agreement if the building is condemned, and prohibiting the tenant to sublet. Haymarket consented to Jinn’s lease being assigned to the Lees in October 2002. However, the assignment was contingent upon successful closing of the sale between Jinn and the Lees. According to the Town’s motion, it has not been provided proof of sale.

Haymarket asks a judge to decide if Jinn’s sale of the grocery business to the Lees and the subsequent assignment of the lease allows “Haymarket [to] declare the Lease terminated ? as a result of unlawful subletting?”

The town asks the judge to find “That Haymarket is no longer bound by the lease,” either because of subletting prohibited by the lease or because of another paragraph in the lease allowing the town to “rebuild the premises or terminate the lease” in the event of condemnation, fire or other natural disaster.

The town’s March letter of notice required the Haymarket Grocery owners, whoever they may be, to vacate the building by June 1. So far, they have yet to do so, the town’s motion to the court protests. The Grocery’s myriad collection of foodstuffs, greeting cards, work gloves, baseball caps, socks and lunch counter have yet to move.

Staff writer Maria Hegstad can be reached at (703) 368-3101, Ext. 121.