An Open Letter to Our Community Regarding 103 Spring Street: Soon to Be Vacant of All Tenants
Depending on your involvement in public affairs, you may or may not know that the tenants of 103 Spring Street have had some serious disagreements with the Industrial Development Authority of Bluefield, Virginia — a branch funded by the town which owns the building we lease downtown at 103 Spring Street.
Before we start, we want to thank you, our community, our team-members, our fans, and the blue collar “get it done” people who make Bluefield a special place to be. On November 15th, 2022 — we will begin vacating our building. Before we state the facts, followed by the emotions, followed by the proof, we want to convey that our exit from Bluefield is solely of safety, legal, and financial concerns with the building and the IDA, (and the conditions of our lease) not the death of an otherwise successful business.
Since the very beginning of this project, monumental pieces to the buildings puzzle have been left entirely incomplete or ignored, and we are now forced to address it after over a year of pleading for action. Firstly, we want to make it clear as to why the issues we are having are the responsibility of the IDA, and not ours as the tenants. Next, we will explain in detail the cost of the issues at hand and what we have done to address it. Then we want to thank those in a position of leadership who have been in our corner and tried to sound the alarm. Lastly, we will address the actions we are taking as we can no longer wait for anyone else to take action (nor should we).
- The Grind has realized since Fall of 2021 that something was very wrong with the power in our building. From underperforming commercial equipment, to equipment catching fire, to low voltage output plugs which also caught fire, and more, nothing has added up. The most stunning realization came after receiving increasingly expensive power bills, topping 1,500 dollars and even over 2,000 per month on more than one occasion. This past spring, it came to a head when we decided to further the investigation after falling on deaf ears. In Spring, the IDA informed us we had in fact been paying the Ax sides power bills since they originally opened. After the business owner on that side realized they hadn’t paid a single power bill (something they knew for quite a while) they vacated abruptly two days later. Following their vacancy, we wanted to know why the power bills were still so incredibly high. Working with another business owner in the building, an independent audit was done on power bills, which culminated in the realization that we (The Grind) were the only business in the 3-suite building paying any electric bills at all, and thus the realization that the power bills were so high because we were paying everyone’s power! — The finding that we were the only ones in the entire building paying any power at all was over 75 days ago, and still, we have since paid 2 more bills to keep the building “on”. We also want to make clear that this is not the fault of the third business owner, as we have discovered they use a 3rd party to pay bills and sincerely did not know. The lethargy by which the IDA believes they can act on such an unbelievably expensive and ridiculous issue is unacceptable, and for this reason we cannot in good conscious sign another lease agreement to our space and put in a 60-day notice to the Town, and the IDA at the most recent town hall meeting on September 27th, 2022.
- We have lost nearly $5,000 in commercial equipment in our kitchen on top of paying everyone’s electric bills. We are also paying the water and sewage bill for at least one other suite. To make matters worse, because we were late on a power bill this spring, AEP instituted a retrofitted deposit on our account in the amount of 1,500 dollars, taking out nearly 500 MORE per month to cover their requested deposit amount for being late. This doesn’t account for unbelievably high maintenance costs to repair equipment being destroyed by unsafe, hazardous electrical outlets which are severely underperforming.
- Our Floors which we paid for to be buffed and polished were ruined within 24 hours when water came through the improperly sealed windows during a rain storm, something which took an additional 9 months for the IDA to fix after we had been consistently asking for help. Our floor costs have not been reimbursed at all, and the window still leaks significantly during heavy rain periods.
- Your community patio is caving in. The community patio, owned and contracted by the town solely (furnished by The Grind), is slowly collapsing in on itself. When we asked for help to ensure the safety of everyone after an elderly Vietnam veteran fell and bloodied himself (last year), we were brought a shovel by the towns manager and told to take up all the bricks ourselves and re-level it when we had time. That was in 2021. We do not have time and having done so would have voided the responsibility the town holds in building the patio with the wrong materials, which will eventually collapse entirely in our opinion; also — we are not contractors, nor do we work for free to fix the towns assets. The patio needs to be taken down and reconstructed properly with materials that last and proper drainage built in. With this said, we have attempted to distribute and put back into place as many of the bricks as possible to make it a safe area. We can no longer do that continuously.
- The brand-new HVAC unit is already shot. The unit cannot cool the building down to 70 if the outside temperature is over 80 — similarly, it cannot warm the building up past 60 if the outside temperature is under 45. This is because our air intake is in the corner of our lounge, sucking up dirt, and in a “low” air flow & very constricted area incapable of producing enough output to cool or heat the building. The one-year-old unit has needed several repairs so far. Independent contractors have come in dismayed by the layout and install of the HVAC units in suite A & B, alleging that they could not have “possibly been done any more wrong than are currently in place”.
- The floors in the “turn-key” kitchen which the IDA sponsored in part to give value to their building and over-all investment, are unsealed and have no floor drains. Grease build up under the 1,200-pound griddle is accumulating rapidly against the non-fire-retardant dry wall under the hood and cannot be properly removed despite our very best efforts over the past year. The situation is creating an increasingly hazardous work environment, and to counter this for the first 15 months, we spent every Sunday evening using a deck scrubber for 3–4 hours and taking up the grease ourselves under the impression the IDA was going to make this situation right. As a part of the original deal, the floors were supposed to be buffed and sealed, they never were.
- The IDA approached us in spring 2022 about restructuring and fixing the building after the Ax throwing tenant vacated. After ongoing discussions, The Grind made the decision to take less space and the IDA would put up a wall to separate ourselves and the former Ax suite, which the 3rd business in the building would take to expand their business. The deal we agreed to was quite simple, we would give up the majority of our lounge in exchange for sealed kitchen floors, access to the other businesses bathroom via an installed doorway (the other business picked up 2 additional bathrooms) and we would have our HVAC air intake moved to a more suitable location, which would lower our energy bills while also leaving less maintenance costs for the IDA considering the unit is struggling to keep up. Lastly, we all agreed the power situation needed fixed immediately and it would be done.
- We were recently told that we were on a month-to-month lease, and that we needed to sign a new one by October 1st, 2022 in order to accommodate the “new” space and “updates”. When we made the decision to take less space in our building, we figured we would have less rent. Instead, the first proposed amount increased us from 900 to 3,000 dollars per month — something we were told was a mistake. A few days later, we were asked to pay 953, instead of 900 — still a 600+ dollar increase per year (for what?!) before anything in our space had been fixed. The new lease was drafted and would have began October 1st. When I spoke at town hall during the September 27th meeting, (video attached at bottom) I was told I was wrong, that The Grind was not on a month to month lease, and that our lease actually ended next year, that the lounge in fact was never even ours to begin with (it was) and that they (The IDA) wanted me to sign the new lease to avoid litigation against the vacated tenant for not paying his rent bills… something we rejected entirely. So, in essence, The Grind is expected to pay more in rent for less in space, pay 3 electric bills until ___?___, deal with the chaos of operating under current conditions, safety / legal hazards, and liabilities, and help the IDA generously avoid the expense of litigation by signing onto a new lease almost 1 year prematurely, which would have increased our payments during the worst inflationary economic period in 40 years. Yikes.
- 2 months ago, the IDA was given $50,000 approved by the town council, to reimburse us and update what was needed. Every issue listed above, still exists as of today, 10/05/2022. Further, the months it will take to properly correct these issues make it more difficult to withstand. The IDA cannot expect a tenant to continue to be patient and exist in an untenable, unsafe, space.
With this information in hand, and in constant communication with the other tenant, we gave an incredibly emotional speech to town hall and the IDA to have our position held on record as we have in the past as shown below. The Grind is making the decision to close our Bluefield location effective November 15th, 2022, with hopes of finding a more suitable one, with a lease deal which allows us to actually operate a business successfully. Along with this, we have received word recently that the other tenant in the building will also choose to relocate, rather than sign onto a new lease agreement which would raise their costs 10% per square foot when the IDA already owes her significant funds for money spent repairing their side of the building and flooring in a situation which mirrors ours. We also want to stress that the issues at hand are not directly related to AEP, their hands are for the most part, tied, and it is the sole responsibility of the IDA to fix this monstrous issue(s). The building at 103 Spring Street never had to be empty or vacated, but due to incredible inaction and lethargy, we are left having to make the difficult decision after drawing a hard line in the sand.
An Unbelievable Emotional Toll
Talking to our team recently, we pondered how damn incredible it was to be able to make it through what we have so far. Setting up a successful business while in college, playing college football, and dealing with this monstrosity of a burden, it’s been a hell of a time. The hours, financial / physical / emotional stress that this has put on us unnecessarily has been truly unbelievable and left us in a state of semi- psychosis (is that a thing?) on more than one occasion. We are tired. We are done looking stupid, asking for someone to do their damn job, crying like we don’t have sense in front of town council — tears rolling down our cheeks, unable to articulate the next word, begging for immediate assistance to the point of such begging being beneath us as we ask for help dozens upon dozens of times. Without this line in the sand drawn on the time allotted to assist us and make right our situation, as well as a clear and concise consequence administered for such short comings, we are unsure if anyone in a position of power would have learned any lesson from this at all, and frankly still aren’t sure. We have worked 80 plus hour weeks on behalf of this business, and our beautiful community for well over 3 years, and it is nothing short of a damn shame that we have to say good bye for now…. but, just as we came into this town — we will go out with our heads held high, and in the giving spirit as we are planning an unbelievable charitable day as we approach veterans day, to give back one last time.
We will continue to operate as usual. Wytheville is doing great things and opened our eyes to what an ethical (non-governmental entity) lease agreement looks like. We are thankful for their constant work in improving their downtown and making it such an incredible atmosphere. Their IDA is unbelievably functional and is excited at the prospect of building something new, and the entrepreneurial spirit.
Is struggling beyond comprehension, and without immediate & significant investment, effort, time, and energy poured into it, we fear its future prosperity is in jeopardy. We urge all citizens to take a personal stake in the condition and business of their downtown.
To Jim and Christine Justice, for always being in our corner, constantly sounding the alarm, and ALWAYS being an advocate as well as a mentor in our personal and professional lives. Your work on our behalf was incredible. We enjoy your bright and charismatic attitudes the second you open the door to come in, until the moment you leave. Despite what Chris might say, you could never talk our ear off Jim. Your business advice, counsel and personal achievements were and will always be giving as much time to listen to as is necessary, and you are an integral part of our time downtown. Thank you so much for all the things you all do behind the scenes to give back to your community, you’re both one in a billion.
To Councilman Mr. Chuck Presley, for always asking everyone what the hell is going on, and questioning everything, taking up both your personal time as well as personal finances to help us fix our building when you had absolutely zero fiduciary responsibility to do so. Your energy was a welcome sight in our building and we appreciate your constant advocacy on our behalf. Your disappointment and dismay is shared, but we will not give up — and you’re part of the reason why.
To Mr. Brad Ayers of the Industrial Development Authority. For volunteering to take the lead on our buildings issues recently, despite having businesses of your own to run, and for doing what should (and needs to be) a full-time position at the town in managing the IDA’s “assets”. For being the only person willing to look us in the eye, when everyone else was too afraid to face the music, or us, in person. And for sitting down with us when the conversation was not always comfortable by any stretch.
To Councilwoman Mrs. Cathy Payne — for always being a gentle voice of reason and wisdom, for always being willing to hear us out, and tell it like it is. Your straight forwardness and wise takes on the affairs of the town were always appreciated, and we are grateful.
To Mrs. Vicki Mahood of the Cornerstone gift shop. Never in my life have I come across a woman so cemented in her faith and wisdom. Her hug can cure you of any ailment and was a gentle reminder to just breathe every once in a while. Your counsel, positivity, and fortitude has been a saving grace and welcome addition to our philosophy and business, and I would choose no other business neighbor to enjoy our time with, you have been a ray of sunshine — to you we are so incredibly thankful.
To our team members, past and present. We could not exist unless you did. Your work, late nights, early mornings, smiling faces, and school driven exhaustion was a welcome refresh to downtown. Not in 40 years has this downtown seen such an influx of younger students come from all over to enjoy what you brough to the table. We also want to make sure you understand that this is not on you, you did not run an unsuccessful operation, you DID IT….YOU made us who we are today, and we are so damned proud of you. Thank you.
To those not mentioned here — if we forgot you during this emotional essay, we apologize. Lastly, we want to make sure you — the people, understand that not adding someone from a position of power is NOT to admonish them automatically. Not everyone shares equal responsibility, but equally are the consequences felt.
To our friends and family. We have work to do, let’s get it done. The Grind never stops.
Proof Is in the Pudding
We have attached links, screenshots, videos, and pictures of power bills to help people better understand the scope of what we are dealing with, show how bad this has become, and show how long we have been working on this for.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifmsFGp-4ys March 8th, 2022 (Our speech starts at 1hr:40min:50sec)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ULji5f52Rs0 September 27th, 2022 (Our speech starts at 41min:31sec)
- A couple examples of recent power bills, which we typically pay 500 per month for in Wytheville, which is also in Virginia and has MORE refrigeration and electrical units than Bluefield.
3. Conversations on how planned power outages mysteriously affected us when they weren’t supposed to, and explaining power issues — dating back to September, 2021
4. Corroboration of the timeline of the IDA proposing a new layout, with The Grind taking less space, showing the lounge was infact previously ours.
5. Evidence showing the concern with the rapidly deteriorating conditions of the community patio, windows, and building, dating back to August 2021.