The shop that kept the Loop smoking for more than four decades closed its doors yesterday — blaming falling revenue and a landlord's demands.
Jessica Bueler, whose father founded HSB Tobacconist (6362 Delmar Boulevard, University City)
in 1972 and moved it to the Loop one year later, says she had been under a payment plan with landlord Joe Edwards. Trolley construction hurt foot traffic on the street, she says, and revenue was down considerably.
But in January, she received a certified letter demanding she either pay the full amount owed or vacate by February 28. She chose to pull out.
Edwards called her repeatedly throughout February, but she never called back. "There wasn't anything to talk about," she says.
Bueler says she owed Edwards approximately $30,000.
Edwards confirms that he sent the letter, but says he had been hopeful a deal could be reached. "She was way behind, but I always tried to work with her. I gave her every break in the world." He says he sent the demand letter because Bueler's husband had promised in October that they'd make good on the back rent by February 1. Instead, he says, they stopped paying rent entirely in November, December and January.
"It was very frustrating," he says. "They can't just stay in there for free. It's impossible for me to satisfy my obligation to the bank. Even if they had called and said, 'We can't pay this amount, but isn't there something you could do?' I would have worked with them. But there was no outreach." Edwards also notes that sales tax records show that revenue is up across the Loop, suggesting HSB's problems are unique.
Bueler and Edwards have had a fraught relationship in recent years. Last April, Bueler lost her $55,000/year marketing job with the Delmar Loop business district. She alleged that the move was retaliation for her complaints about Edwards' "unprofessional" behavior, which she said included rambling late-night phone calls and alcohol abuse
. (Edwards has staunchly denied her claims.)
"I looked up to Joe," she says. "That's the most devastating part of this."
Edwards, too, recalls better times, recalling the committees he recruited her for and the thank you note she sent him after he spoke at her father's funeral. "I don't know what turned," he says. "It was not my drinking, I guarantee you that."
Bueler, through tears, says she intends to reopen the store — perhaps in Maplewood or Dogtown. The demand to vacate simply came too fast to find a new place, so for now, the contents of the shop are in storage.
She says the closure is deeply wounding. "I grew up on the Loop. That was my whole life. Ever since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to have this store and run it." But she's now looking at the street in the rearview mirror.
"If we are having trouble, other people are having trouble," she says. "There are lots and lots of people closing their doors."
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