Yesterday's media coverage detailing the dispute between the Hot Tomato and their landlord over new lease terms really isn't big news in and of itself. This scenario is repeated numerous times across the country every day, for all kinds of reasons. Most of these reasons are shrugged off as the way of the world, or "just business".
What makes this different is the grassroots community support that the business has solicited and received thus far. There are a few interesting snippets from the reporting that has been done that may help bring out the rest of this story...
The proprietors of the Cafe' claim, according to the Sentinel's account, that their rent is being more than doubled by the landlord, the Fruita Masonic Lodge Association. Hot Tomato co-owner Jen Zeuner was quoted as saying that this rent does not include maintenance costs and property taxes, which she pays.
Masonic lodge mouthpiece John Groves was quoted as saying that the lodge is "not interested in making improvements on the building". This includes improvements that the business had requested, and that the lodge felt were the responsibility of the business owner.
KKCO also reported that the entire Masonic building - which includes two storefronts and the lodge - is on sale for "over $500,000". This is over twice the most recent assessed value of the property according to the Mesa County Assessor's database.
So to summarize, the Fruita Masonic Lodge wants to double the Hot Tomato's rent with very little apparent justification to do so, other than they're the big bad landlord and they can. Additionally, they appear to be interested in unloading the building for a big lump of cash, well above the building's assessed valuation and seemingly beyond the reach of the Hot Tomato's ownership, and/or community sympathizers.
Yeah, it's just business...and it stinks.
I think in terms of movie analogies sometimes. The most comfortable and accessible comparison is It's a Wonderful Life, with our heroines Jen and Anne as loan-officer-with-a-heart George Bailey, and the Masons playing money-grubbing Mr. Potter.
I don't think this is all about money, though. A reader comment on the Sentinel's site got me thinking. The first sentences jumped out:
"The business is a definate (sic) staple of the Fruita culture. We as a family of 4 loved the owners and their, can do, hard working friendly business ethics."
Is it possible that the more conservative segments of the Fruita community, as manifested in the membership of the Masonic lodge, are trying to oust the Hot Tomato and their clientele as part of some convoluted battlefield in an ill-conceived culture war?
Hopefully they'll find a place within the hub of Downtown Fruita, with a property owner that displays a little more knowledge than the Masons, who seem to have a firm grasp on the price of everything, but the value of nothing.
One way could be to show up a week from today, June 16, at around 6:30 PM, when the membership of the Masonic lodge should be arriving for its' monthly meeting at 7:00.