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Claremont parking space brouhaha turns ugly in a hurry

A battle is being waged between two businesses over a common Claremont problem—parking.

Some residents are in an uproar after local frozen yogurt shop 21 Choices recently repaved parking spaces in front of the adjacent Kindred Spirits and designated them as parking only for customers of the yogurt shop.

Persis Newland, who co-owns Kindred Spirits with her husband, Chuck, first noticed the parking spaces were being repaved last week and thought nothing of it. She was taken by surprise when the stencils designated them as reserved for the yogurt shop. Accompanying signs were then put in, warning that violating cars would be towed away.

“We just always thought it was communal,” she said.

Tony Husson, owner of 21 Choices, said he has owned the spaces since 2004 when he bought the space, and has always left them communal. But over time, employees and customers alike have told him the lack of parking in front of the yogurt shop has been driving customers away. The shop has just re-opened last week after a two-year remodel.

He provided pictures reportedly showing Kindred Spirits employees and customers parking in front of the yogurt shop for hours at a time, while claiming his shop remained empty.

“What hit me was we were cheating our associates out of hours in order to make a living, because our business declined so much because every single space was taken,” he said.

Ms. Newland acknowledged there has been friction between the two businesses over who parks where, and when asked if employees and customers park in front of 21 Choices for hours, she said they could be from Kindred Spirits or from nearby businesses, such as Sprouts. She also claimed that Mr. Husson has yelled at customers for parking in front of his store.

“But here’s the thing—it’s just open parking,” she said. “And his yogurt people park in front of our place too. It just doesn’t matter.”

Mr. Husson claims he tried multiple times over the years to get Kindred Spirits to share the parking spaces, at one point informing Chuck Newland that he owned the spaces. Each time he was rebuffed and, in his words, thrown out of the store.

A former 21 Choices manager then walked into the store to ask them to share the parking spaces, he said, and she left “trembling and shaking.”

“I’m not saying they threatened, like ‘We’re going to kill you’ or something,” he said, “I’m just saying she was treated angrily and yelled at and told ‘Nobody could own parking spaces.’”

But, legally speaking, Mr. Husson does own the parking spaces.

A parcel map shows that Mr. Husson’s property extends in a L-shape, from the yogurt shop east along the front parking spaces to Mountain Avenue.

According to a letter to the Newlands from Mr. Husson’s attorney, R. Scott Jenkins of Hahn & Hahn, “That property includes the parking spaces and driveway on the Foothill Boulevard side of your leased store.”

The Newlands lease their space from a different landlord, not Mr. Husson. Their parcel includes the entire back alley, which Mr. Husson claims is off-limits for 21 Choices employees to unload deliveries.  

Mr. Husson also noted when the nearby Chase bank was built a few years ago, the bank’s owner offered to paint reserved stencils on the parking spaces, but he passed on the idea.

“I felt that it was not neighborly to put ‘reserved’ on spaces, that we should still discuss or let them at least come to their common sense to not park all day in front of us, and at least tell their customers to park further away,” he said. “But this never happened.”

Ms. Newland claims there was no communication beforehand from Mr. Husson that he was going to take over the eight spaces in front of the two shops, nor was there any written information to her or her landlord that he owned those spaces.

“Just because you have a right to do something doesn’t make it right to do,” she said.

Mr. Husson told the COURIER that he elected not to tell Kindred Spirits about claiming the parking spaces last week because, “I was afraid for my life.”

“How many times do you need to be thrown out of a store before you get the message that I better not approach them?” he said.

Kindred Spirits has gone through struggles before, Ms. Newland said, but she fears this current situation could harm her business by disallowing people to park in front of the shop. Currently, customers and employees can only park across the driveway and would have to walk a little bit more to get into the shop.

“This is somebody that’s trying to put somebody out of business,” she said.

The issue has become so contentious that Claremont police were called on February 23 after a car reportedly belonging to a Kindred Spirits art teacher was towed away. Ms. Newland said the teacher suffered from dyslexia and didn’t know she wasn’t allowed to park there.

The cease-and-desist letter from Mr. Jenkins to Kindred Spirits alludes to why the police were called, noting that “Over this past weekend, as a result of your actions, Mr. Husson was required to request municipal law enforcement assistance in protecting his civil liberties.”

“Your reactions to the new parking restrictions are not acceptable in a civilized society,” Mr. Jenkins wrote.

The spat also took an ugly turn online. Throughout the week, supporters of Kindred Spirits flooded 21 Choices’ Yelp page with one-star reviews and negative comments about the parking situation.

“[21 Choices] did this to discriminate against a new age shop, plain and simple,” one reviewer wrote. “This is a blatant act of selfishness driven by greed,” said another.

Arden Mahintorabi, a manager for 21 Choices, said they are not trying to commit any ill will towards any person or any shop.

“Whatever kind of shop they were—they could have been a grocery store—it would have been the same issue,” Ms. Mahintorabi said.

The reviews have since been taken down, and a pop-up from Yelp cited an “unusual activity alert” because the business recently made waves in the news. Once the reviews were taken down, Ms. Newland suggested to her followers to post positive reviews on her business’ Yelp page instead.

“I don’t want to give him any more energy,” she said.

As of now, the situation remains at an impasse. Ms. Newland hopes the spaces go back to being communal parking, and was told that her landlord is in negotiations with Mr. Husson and his attorneys.

“I trust and I have a lot of faith that Spirit’s going to work things out here,” she said.

But for Mr. Husson, the move to claim the parking spaces was the end result of years of conflict and lost business.

“The Bible says turn the other cheek,” he said. “I have no more cheeks to turn.”

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com

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