Sometimes “It’s just business” is a bad move
Whatever you do, don’t use the phrase, “It’s just business” in my presence. Not now. Not today.
The phrase “It’s just business” is used when a company acts callously or cruelly.
The phrase “It’s just business” hit home in Davis, California this week. This phrase undoubtedly contributed to the closure of Common Grounds coffee shop in Oakshade Town Center in South Davis.
The place has existed for over 12 years in its current location. I used to live about three blocks from the place. I’d walk over there with my family and enjoy coffee and scones in a unique family-friendly atmosphere. There were couches and comfy chairs, long communal coffee tables and children’s books. It’s not a stretch to compare the place to the fictitious “Central Perk,” the gathering spot for characters in the old television sitcom “Friends.” About 7 years ago, another local family—Michelle Kim and Son Chong—purchased the business and maintained the establishment as a staple of the community.
Alas, on Thursday, March 28, the owners of the property—Regency Centers, a huge business conglomerate that purchased the mall last year for $35 million—informed Common Grounds their lease was up, according to Kim. Despite efforts to negotiate new lease over the past few months—and 13 unanswered messages regarding lease renewal—Regency Centers gave Common Grounds exactly seven days to move out, Kim said.
Employees had to be given short notice. The last day of business? Easter Sunday. Then, Kim and her husband will spend the last 72 hours of their lease moving out.
Common Grounds is searching for a new site, but that will take at least two or three months, Kim said.
In response to email questions about the handling of Common Grounds’ lease, Regency Centers offered the following personal and heartfelt email response:
“We are sorry Common Grounds will be leaving the center. Out of respect for our tenants and retail partners, we cannot share the details of tenant business.”
Regency Centers can be excused for their impersonal touch. They are a property management company based out of Jacksonville, Florida, as far as I can tell from their web site. Their job is to make money, turn the $35 million investment into more money for themselves and investors.
According to Kim, Regency wants to open a pet store that will take over Common Grounds and a neighboring space that has remained empty for several months. At first glance, this move—though done in an entirely classless way—seems to be economically driven.
Here’s where the “it’s just business” approach—the approach that Regency Centers has taken—runs into problems. First off, it overlooks the importance of community.
Over the years, Common Grounds has built a relationship with Davis. They’ve contributed to city activities and events. In economic parlance, the local relationships are called “externalities”—benefits a community receives from a business that aren’t easily measured.
Sometimes, these externalities impact business. In fact, I have no doubt that Regency’s handling of the Common Grounds lease has already led to a reduced return on investment. Consider the following Facebook reaction to incident, found on the Common Grounds page:
— “So am I to understand that Common Grounds, the business that has kept residents loyal to the entire center while vacancies mounted, is being discarded for non-community purposes? If so, other businesses within the center should find alternative locations. I won’t shop there, nor will I recommend doing so.”
—“This is wrong on so many levels.”
Kristi Smith-Dvorak, representative of the almost 100 posts responding to the Common Grounds dismissal, put it succinctly: “OMG no way! Landlord is an idiot.”
When I was growing up, I kept hearing the phrase “All business is local.” Granted, the phrase doesn’t resonate as much today given the Internet, Amazon.com and globalization. Perhaps the phrase should be amended to “All business should know the local consumers.” Regency Centers doesn’t know Davis. Those who have spent any sort of time in Davis know that we are loyal consumers—and we remember. Oh, do we remember.
In the short term—if this behemoth pet store goes in—Regency’s income will go up. But, as a local who understands Davisites, I wouldn’t bet on the incoming tenant lasting long—especially given the ill will that Regency has shown to Common Grounds. I know that I won’t be patronizing the new tenant. Given Facebook reaction, others will be following suit.
That’s why this Jacksonville joker needs to start spending time in Davis, learn about the local flavor. Because right now, their attempt at absentee landlordship is just plain bad business.
Join over 200 Davisites and sign the change.org petition asking Regency Centers to let Common Grounds stay: http://www.change.org/petitions/regency-centers-please-allow-common-grounds-coffee-to-stay-in-its-location
Hop on the Common Grounds FB page and give them some love: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Common-Grounds-Coffee/47891326198?fref=ts
David Weinshilboum, who wishes Michelle Kim and Son Chong the best, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.