Haymarket Grocery closed by town building inspector

Monday night, the Haymarket Grocery’s lights were on, stock lined the shelves and Sunday’s newspapers sat in racks by the doors.

But the doors were blocked with yellow police tape.

The Haymarket Grocery building was condemned in January; tenants in the building were told to vacate by June 1. Then Sunday afternoon, town building inspector James Lowery closed the building, access to its interior marked off by Haymarket Police. At Monday’s town council meeting, Lowrey told the council they needed to chain padlock the doors and board up the building to protect it from looters.

“The closing of the store is a great hardship to the Lees,” Rye Sung Lee and Jung Kyu Lee’s attorney Robert Beagan said. “Their employment options are very limited and all of their assets are tied up in this store.”

The Lees have been operating the Haymarket Grocery since they purchased the business from John K. Jinn in 2002. Jinn’s lease of the building was also assigned to the Lees, in an agreement also signed by the town in October 2002.

The Town of Haymarket, which owns the building, filed a motion for judgment with Prince William Circuit Court on May 28. The town wants a judge to release the town from its lease with the owners of the Haymarket Grocery business.

Timothy M. Purnell, who represents the town of Haymarket, said Tuesday the town has no responsibility to the Lees under the lease, because of the condemnation and a lease violation. Purnell said the town has “worked very cooperatively [with the Lees] and is talking about another space.”

Beagan agreed there was discussion of another space, but said Wednesday no deals had been struck. Meanwhile, the grocery’s stock sits on the shelves. Virginia Lottery wants to pick up its tickets. And the morning delivery of bread and newspapers sat on the steps Wednesday morning.

“We’re trying to figure out what to do with [the stock],” Beagan said. “We’re in the unenviable position of bills and no income. It’s a formula for problems.”

The Lees aren’t the only tenants of the grocery building whose stock is sitting unused in refrigerators since the building’s closure. The Coalition Against Hunger, a charity that provides food, furniture, clothing and cars to the needy also rented space in the Haymarket Grocery building.

“The door’s locked, the freezer’s closed, and our food is going bad,” said Coalition Against Hunger President Wayne Rogers.

Monday evening, Coalition supporters voiced their concerns to the town council. Rogers said he and the mayor shook hands over a deal to move the Coalition to another town-owned location in June 2002.

“Next thing I know, we’re getting evicted and the town is in negotiations with the grocery for the same plot of land,” Rogers said. “Don’t you feel the sense of need here? We do a lot of good. We feed a lot of people. Obviously, a handshake doesn’t mean [anything.]”

Rogers said he was sorry the council was in legal trouble with the grocery store, but that the deal with the Coalition had been made first. Rogers and Coalition Director Priscilla Delean voiced concerns that the town didn’t want the Coalition to continue operating in Haymarket.

There is some history to support the claim.

After the town purchased the town center three years ago, the council told the Coalition its monthly rent of $400 would nearly triple. At the time of the purchase, Haymarket Mayor John R. “Jack” Kapp told a Potomac News and Manassas Journal Messenger reporter that rent received from businesses on the town center property would pay for its acquisition. Only after public outcry and media attention did the town relent.

The Coalition moved to its current location at the end of the grocery store building and the rent remained $400.

But Monday, Kapp denied shaking hands on the deal with Rogers and said Rogers had never gotten back to him about the space after the two discussed it in March 2002. As the two continued to argue during citizen’s time, Kapp said there had been a misunderstanding and that he had no problem with the Coalition moving into the space.

Town Historian Sarah Turner offered the Coalition a parcel of her land for $10 during the meeting, which was accepted. Wednesday, Rogers said the Coalition was talking with Habitat for Humanity and the Lions Club for assistance in building on Turner’s land. He also said the Coalition would be filing a lawsuit soon against the town for breach of contract.