Tenants racket

Horrible news for denizens of downtown: The shopping center abutting Lafayette Towers is set to shut down to make way for parking. On the bright side, a movement to fight the closure is afoot. Tenants in Lafayette Park Shopping Plaza — including Lafayette Market grocery store; Richard’s Drugs pharmacy; Box Seat Video store (one of the best around); Sala Thai restaurant (a favorite); a well-used coffee shop and a frame and art store — got eviction notices July 16. The Habitat Company of Chicago gave the owners 30 days to evacuate, but stated compassionately, “As a practical matter, the Shopping Center will not be torn down in 30 days.” The company — which also owns the Lafayette Towers and Pavilion, Riverfront Towers and developments in Ann Arbor and Southfield — has no plans for the center, but is exploring all options, including residential development, says Nicole Kyros, company spokeswoman. In the short term, the site will likely be paved over for use as a parking lot, Kyros says. She says the shopping center wasn’t profitable, couldn’t attract enough high-paying renters and now needs massive upgrades that aren’t cost-effective.

Richard Schiff, owner and pharmacist of Richard’s Drugs, was hit particularly hard by the news. The pharmacy, a Detroit fixture dating to the 1920s, was handed down by Schiff’s father and has been in the center since 1962. Like its neighbors, he says the pharmacy has operated on a month-to-month rental basis and without luxury of basic maintenance. Kyros denies this, saying Habitat spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, which News Hits’ amateur inspectors found hard to detect. Schiff, whose air conditioning has been out since July 4, says the landlord responded to leaky, 40-year-old plumbing and asbestos with duct tape.

Nevertheless, Schiff is tied to the community. “I’m not moving. I want to stay,” says Schiff. “This is the story of Detroit. We get all these promises and there’s all these big plans and what we get is demolitions and paving over.”

Rosella Miller, 87, who is getting a prescription filled while Schiff speaks, says she’s been going to Richard’s for 30 years. “Where am I going to go?” she asks. Shopping downtown is scarce and the shopping plaza is a necessity for area residents, especially seniors such as Miller.

“We walk over in the morning,” says Herman Koss, 80, who lives in the Town Center condos. “My wife is on various medications and we rely on Richard’s Drugs. … The shopping center is an important part of the community.”

The absentee owners “don’t give a damn what goes on here,” Koss fumes. Shop owners and residents were set to have a hearing before City Council on Tuesday, July 23, and a rally is set for 5 p.m. Thursday, July 25 in front of Sala Thai.

Lisa M. Collins is a Metro Times staff writer. E-mail [email protected]
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