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Saturday, May 19, 2012

The casualties of corporatism have names, faces, lives, and families
Posted by Jill | 12:47 PM

Above is a photo of Wildridge Service Center. It's a gas station and garage, run by a man named Ted Foundopoulos. Ted has been my mechanic for much of the last fifteen years. Guys like Ted are a disappearing breed. If you're a regular customer, and you get rear-ended, he'll put your car on a lift and reassure you that there's nothing bent -- and show you. If you think you need tires, and he thinks you have six more months on the ones you have, he'll tell you. You want OEM parts? He'll get 'em. One thing he WON'T do is try to sell you a bunch of crap you don't really need, unlike when you go to the dealer for an oil change and walk out $800 poorer because the guy insisted that your engine block mount was cracked and your engine may fall out at any time....or that your CV boots are leaking, or any of a number of things you've never heard of.

Ted has two guys working for him in the garage -- Frank, and The Kid Who Used To Work The Gas Pumps Who Went To Tech School To Be An Aircraft Mechanic And Couldn't Find a Job. Unfortunately I don't know his name, but he's a nice kid. Both these guys work the way Ted does -- solid, quality work, verbally guaranteed and backing it up, reasonably priced, and no bullshit. The kids who pump gas are of the same breed.

Ted has a wife and a couple of kids. He's a solid citizen in town, active in local good works, friends with the many cops and building contractors who populate our town.

And Ted is in danger of losing his business.

It's not because he's a bad businessman. Look at the schedule board in his shop and you'll see 10-15 jobs booked EVERY SINGLE WEEKDAY. He's the best, and his schedule shows it. No, what keeps Ted up at night isn't that his business is failing. It's that he's a pawn of giant corporations and there's not a damn thing he can do about it.
Foundopoulos was a tenant of Getty Petroleum Marketing (GPMI) and a sub-tenant of Getty Realty, a separate company which leases gas stations and convenience stores to distributors. Last December, GPMI filed for bankruptcy. Two weeks ago, a U.S. Bankruptcy Court judge in New York found the lease between GPMI and Getty Realty was void, allowing the real estate company to repossess 788 gas stations, including the Getty in Washington Township.

Since then, Foundopoulos has received no new shipments of fuel — though one may come in the next few days — as Getty Realty has had to find a new distributor to replace GPMI. Foundopoulos has kept the garage open, but in the meantime he has been missing the 6.5 cents per gallon of gas sold GPMI paid him. Getty Realty has switched Foundopoulus and other stations to a monthly lease and the exact amount they will pay remains undetermined, Foundopoulos said.

"Now they want to pay us less," Foundopoulos said.

Getty Realty recently attempted to evict 63 tenants from gas stations in Connecticut and New York, but withdrew the motion last week. Foundopoulos said he was worried they might try to evict him from the Washington Township location, which has been open since 1959.
Here's the backstory:
Getty Realty's request for an eviction order was in itself controversial. It asked the bankruptcy court in Manhattan to declare that it could take "all necessary steps" to evict the dealers, including "breaking open and entering" the stations and using the U.S. Marshals Service to arrest the retailers. The request was filed late on a Saturday night and dealers were given no advance notice of the move.

Getty Realty's motion would also have allowed it to seize stations in New York, where dealers say they have spent more than $1.6 million of their own pockets to install improvements, including convenience stores, canopies, pumps, tanks and EPOS equipment.

The company's eviction maneuver raised eyebrows on both sides of the legal divide.

Getty Realty is not in bankruptcy. Rather, it is the company's former tenant at the stations, Getty Petroleum Marketing Inc. (GPMI), which is in Chapter 11 reorganization. Getty Realty itself is only a GPMI creditor in the case, while the dealers themselves have never been party to the bankruptcy action.

Under usual legal procedures, Getty Realty would file separate eviction cases against each dealer in a state court, with every retailer having the right to mount a defense, legal sources say.

"I could see the court issuing an order holding GPMI in contempt for not surrendering the stations free of tenancy, but I don't understand how the dealers can be subject to the bankruptcy court or how the judge in that case would even have jurisdiction," admitted one jobber attorney. "But if it works, it would be a silver bullet for Getty."

In emergency filings, dealer lawyers asked the bankruptcy court not to give in to Getty Realty's demands. When GPMI gave up its leases on the stations, the court specifically stated that it was allowing the return of the sites to Getty Realty "without prejudice to any rights" the dealers had, the filings said.

The dealers have honored their obligations to Getty Realty by paying their rents and should be allowed to assert their rights to remain on the properties in the appropriate legal forum, which is not a bankruptcy court, Matthew K. Beatman, a lawyer representing the Connecticut dealers, told the court.

"They did nothing to warrant being dispossessed of their businesses, their life savings and rendered destitute," he said in a court motion. They are being hauled into court solely because two big companies--Getty Realty and GPMI--cannot amicably resolve a business dispute between themselves.

The Connecticut dealers appealed to Blumenthal after Getty Realty filed the eviction motion. Blumenthal contacted the trustee in the GPMI bankruptcy case, asking for more information, said CSP Daily News sources close to his office. The retailers also sent a message to the U.S. Department of Justice, complaining that Getty Realty was trying to use the U.S. Marshals Service as its private "policeman" to evict scores of dealers in one fell swoop, rather than follow normal court procedures.

"The use of these significant federal resources, marshals, at scores of locations, is an unprecedented, unwarranted and inappropriate move that is supported by neither the facts nor the law," said the message, sent by one dealer attorney. The retailers are being threatened not only with immediate loss of their property, their rights and business, "but their dignity and potentially, their freedom," he said.

"In my view, there is business and there is litigation and there is abuse. This is abuse," said John Morgan, another lawyer representing the Connecticut dealers.

Which brings us back to Ted, who is a subtenant of the leaseholder. It's as if I were renting a house and I rented the garage out to a guy who needed a place to run his autoshop business. He can't even buy the property from Getty Realty, because he's not the leaseholder. So he's stuck.

Ted is the kind of "small businessman" "job creator" that everyone's talking about this election season, and it's also kind of ironic that his name is the same as the name of the conference at which Nick Hanauer pretty much blew the Republican notion of "job creators right out of the water. But if you were one of the gas jockeys who was out of work for two weeks while Ted scrambled to find a fuel supplier, Ted's status as a job creator is beyond question. But more than being a businessman, he's one of the good guys. He's a good family man, he's honest -- an upstanding citizen. And a fight between two multibillion dollar corporations has him wondering whether he'll be in business tomorrow, or next week, or next month.

If you live in New Jersey, and you're reading this, please use the information linked above to write to Gov. Chris Christie, Assemblyman Robert Schroeder, Senators Frank Lautenberg and Bob Menendez, and even that fuckwit Ernie Scott Garrett, and ask them to help out.
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Blogger Pangolin said...
This is what anti-trust laws were supposed to be about. Slicing up the big businesses so that the small businesses could do an honest job of providing a service.

Instead what we got was a situation where nine out of ten gas stations are owned by some sort of real estate holding company that is in turn held by big oil.

Of course, the guy who actually operates the station takes all the risk because he's usually a tenant-contracter. In other words; a sharecropper. The business he or she spends a lifetime working to develop can disappear in a weekend because some plotting CEO wants another two million on this year's bonus.

Blogger double nickel said...
This story pretty much sums up what's wrong with America.

Anonymous The Wifely Person said...
Oh, the hypocrisy of it!

This is just so sadly broken.