Brouhaha over Cornersburg coffee-shop barista plan unplugs effort to reach lease agreement
By Jamison Cocklin
A dispute between the owner of Cornersburg Plaza and a proprietor who had planned to open a drive-through coffee shop featuring provocatively clothed baristas led to a three- person protest.
Signs decrying plaza owner Tom Shutrump were prominently displayed Wednesday to drivers on Canfield Road by Eileen Benedict, who signed a letter-of-intent to rent the space immediately adjacent to the U.S. Post Office in December.
Benedict said her business, which was to be called Hot Contents Coffee and Comforts, would have utilized women wearing “sexy clothes — nothing raunchy, but sophisticated.”
She alleges problems arose with Shutrump when it came time to sign a lease agreement in April and he included stipulations that barred employees from being overly exposed “below the neck or above the knee.”
As a result, Benedict claims her business plan is ruined altogether because she spent most of her working capital on renovating the space — a cost she estimated at $6,500.
“[Shutrump] is trying to bamboozle my business,” she said. “He knew what we were doing and he thought it was a good idea. But because of the lease, we can no longer be the first in the area with this drive-through idea.”
Shutrump would not comment Wednesday. Instead, his lawyer, Steve Garea, said Benedict’s claims are “an absolute falsehood.”
“The simple truth is that the landlord and the tenant were not able to arrive at a lease agreement,” Garea said. “It appears that the tenant is trying to use the press to an advantage. A lease was presented and reviewed, and we requested any changes or amendments that the tenant would like and we have not heard back.”
Garea also said that Shutrump was never entirely clear on Benedict’s business plan. The letter of intent, he added, was always subject to both parties executing a lease agreement.
Benedict, too, hired a lawyer — Charles Gruenspan, who confirmed that a lease was never signed but refused to provide comment for fear of compromising the ongoing negotiations between the two parties.
A copy of the lease provided to The Vindicator by Benedict does include language that would prevent Benedict from going forward with some aspects of her business plan.
“Tenant shall operate the demised premises as a family establishment,” reads the lease. “Tenant shall not allow any employee to appear in any state of dress that is provocative, or exposes body parts below the neck or above the knee without clothing covering those portions of the body.”
The initial lease goes on to read, “Tenant shall not conduct any adult entertainment activities in the demised premises.”
But, instead of negotiating with her landlord, Garea said Benedict “disappeared.”
“When the regulations with respect to operations and the lease became a concern for the potential tenant, we asked her what she wanted changed — she never responded,” Garea said. “... We’ve had very little if any contact with Eileen Benedict. I don’t believe there’s a story here.”
Garea added Shutrump “has bent over backward for the tenant,” and at this point, he is allowing Benedict to remove her belongings from the space at 3373 Cornersburg Plaza.
Benedict is negotiating for the renovation costs and additional damages.