Falmouth Shopping Center store intends to fight eviction

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FALMOUTH — An executive of Ocean State Job Lot said the company plans to “defend ourselves the best we can” in an eviction proceeding instituted by the new owners of the Falmouth Shopping Center.

John Conforti, chief financial officer of the Rhode Island-based discount retailer, said in a May 18 interview that Joseph Soley and Johnathan Cohen, who recently purchased the Route 1 shopping center for $21 million, are “relying on a technicality” to break the 10-year lease Ocean State signed last fall with the center’s prior owners.

The eviction “just doesn’t make sense ethically or legally,” Conforti said. “As far as we’re concerned we negotiated our lease in good faith and we’re just hoping the judge will rule in our favor.”

He said Ocean State would attempt to work out a settlement prior to the court hearing, which he believed would be held on Thursday. But he also said “we’ll go to court if we have to. It’s just so unsettling. Generally, eviction notices are issued when there’s a history of nonpayment, but that’s not the case here.”

Representatives of Soley and Cohen could not be reached to explain why the owners are pursuing the eviction. Conforti did say the landlords served Ocean State with a default notice prior to initiating the eviction process.

“We knew the shopping center was for sale and usually (tenants) will receive oral and written communication regarding the transition,” he said.

What seems to be at the center of the dispute is whether Ocean State responded promptly and appropriately to what the retailer in a press release called an “exchange of documents.”

Town Manager Nathan Poore, whose original response to Soley and Cohen purchasing the shopping center was encouragement over their long-term vision, said Monday that he has not spoken with the pair about the proposed eviction and therefore had no comment.

Town Council Chairman Caleb Hemphill, one of several town officials who attended Ocean State’s grand opening last fall, also had no comment. “I have nothing to say at the moment,” he said Monday.

As far as Conforti said he knows, Ocean State is the only tenant facing possible eviction from the shopping center. He said the proceeding doesn’t include Planet Fitness, which shares the recently renovated space with the retailer.

In a press release, Ocean State said it has “breathed new life into the plaza,” since the space it occupies had been empty since 2005, when Shaw’s supermarket moved to another storefront in the plaza.

“Opening just last fall, Ocean State Job Lot has been a tremendous business developer, job-producer and community partner,” the press release said. Conforti said the Falmouth store – one of six in Maine and 131 across New England –  employs about 30 people.

He also said Ocean State put about $1.5 million into renovating and improving the space. “We’ve got quite a bit invested” and originally agreed to lease it from “a property manager that we’ve known for 30 years who thought we might be a good fit,” Conforti said.

Store manager Rob Lawson said Ocean State had a great opening and business has been good ever since. “We’re glad to be part of the community and the community seems happy to have us here,” Lawson said.

District Manager Jane Colton was at the Falmouth store last week to meet with employees and allay their concerns. She agreed with Lawson that Ocean State has been “very well received,” and said Falmouth is “a great community and we’re really happy to be here.”

In the company press release, Ocean State said its commitment “has stimulated the local economy and helped to attract other businesses. In fact, it’s not a stretch to say (we’re) part of the reason the property was (so) attractive to developers.”

Ocean State has “no intention of leaving this space now, or at any point in the future, and has been blindsided by this maneuver from” the new owners, the release said.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

The new owners of the Falmouth Shopping Center on Route 1 are attempting to evict Ocean State Job Lot, which opened last fall.

Jane Colton, Ocean State Job Lot district manager, and Rob Lawson, manager of the Falmouth store, both said last week they feel welcomed by the community.

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