An open letter to San Antonio:
What happened at Saluté on Monday is a very clear cut Tenant/Landlord dispute and both the law and Azeneth Domínguez' lease are on my side. I am unfairly being portrayed on Facebook and elsewhere as some sort of heartless evil landlord who unfairly harmed Azeneth (see "prayer" circulating on Facebook below) when in reality I am the one who had my property damaged and stolen by Azeneth's supporters. Here is what really happened...
I purchased the building Saluté is located in early April 2012. When I finally was able to get a hold of Azeneth we met in early May at Saluté to talk about the future of her business. I was aware at the time that Azeneth wanted to retire and had been trying to sell Saluté for several years. I had even looked into buyi
ng it at one point but had decided not to pursue it. When I first received a copy of her lease from the previous landlord several things became apparent to me. Saluté had been operating on a month to month lease since June 2006 and said lease would not transfer to a new owner if Azeneth sold Saluté. The liquor licence was also in Azeneth Domínguez' name directly, it was not set up as an LLC or partnership and would therefore be impossible to transfer to a new owner. Both of these facts would prevent Azeneth from legally selling Saluté as an operating business, which I was not sure if she realized. When I sat down with Azeneth in May I explained to her that she could not legally sell Saluté as an operating business, but that she was free to sell the name and her equipment if a buyer wanted to reopen Saluté in a different location. I offered to let her take the sign with her when she left or include it in a sale if she could find a buyer, even though since the sign was attached to the building it had been included in the sale of the building. I explained to her that all the improvements she had done to the space over the years (AC, toilets, the bar, back bar, etc) were the property of the landlord and had been included when I bought the building. I had a copy of the lease with me and read out loud to her (she did not have her reading glasses on her) the relevant sections of her lease that explained all this, namely Sec 21 which reads as follows...
"All fixtures, heating and air conditioning equipment, alterations, additions and improvements (except trade fixtures) put in at the expense of the Lessee (Tenant) shall be the property of the Lessor (Landlord) and shall remain upon and be surrendered with the Premises as a part thereof at the termination of this lease. Lessee shall, at Lessee's sole expense, repair any damage to the improvements occasioned by the removal of trade fixtures."
Pretty clear cut lease language (you can read the full document below), but in case she did not understand the lease she had signed in 2002 (2 landlords ago) I explained to her that she could not remove the bar top, or the air conditioning unit, or anything else that was attached to the building when she eventually vacated the premises. She understood and agreed not to remove any of the landlord's property when Saluté closed.
At the May meeting I offered to let Azeneth finish out the year at her current rent, $700 (market value of the space is $2,000), which she declined. Azeneth told me that she wanted to stay open until Salute's 25th anniversary in June and I offered to let her stay in the space until the end of July rent free, voluntarily declining $2,100 in rent from Ms Dominguez. I encouraged her to throw some big shows before Saluté closed so that she could go out with some money in her pocket.
I thought everything was fine and called Azeneth on Friday July 27 to go over things and find out when she was going to be out of the space. She did not answer the phone and I left her a voice mail asking her to call me. She did not return my phone call. I called her again on Monday, July 30, and my call went straight to voice mail. I went by the space early Monday afternoon and saw that they had put newspaper over the windows so no one could see what was going on inside, but no one was there at that time. I began to wonder what they were doing inside the space that they didn't want me to see and went back by later that afternoon. There was a group of five or six people removing items from the building and as they saw me walk up to the space they locked the pad lock on the patio gate to prevent me from going inside. I asked them if Azeneth was there, they said she wasn't and I angrily demanded entry to the building, which I explained was my legal right as the landlord. They refused and I called the police. Before the police could arrive someone on the porch handed me a cell phone with Azeneth on the line. I demanded to know what she was doing to the space that she did not want me to see and again angrily demanded that she tell her people to let me inside the building I owned, which they then did. I entered the Saluté space to find that her supporters had dismantled and removed the marble bar top, had demolished a glass block wall and were in the process of removing the glass blocks, had stripped out most of the light fixtures and had removed all the exit signs and emergency lights, all of which was the property of the landlord. I informed Azeneth's people that they were removing items that belonged to me without permission, that Azeneth was in immediate default of her lease for violating Sec. 21 (quoted above) and that I was locking her out of the space immediately (which is my right as a commercial landlord once a tenant is in default of their lease). I informed them that they were now trespassing and that the police were on their way, that they needed to get any personal items they had inside the building and leave immediately, which they did after the police arrived. I had one of the cops guard the door while I ran over to Limelight and got chains and pad locks and proceeded to chain the front door and the patio door with myself inside. I immediately called a locksmith and my lawyer, who assured me I was taking the right course of action and that my actions were legal. I remained inside the building while Azeneth's supporters called the media and their friends, who gathered in a crowd in the parking lot for several hours while I was locked inside the building waiting for a locksmith. Enrique Lopetegui from the Current arrived almost immediately and interjected himself in the middle of the situation, which you can see on video on the Sound and the Fury blog. Reporters are supposed to report the news, not make the news, which Enrique was obviously trying to do in this situation. Enrique has gone after me before about Saluté closing and is hardly impartial, as you can see from the hatchet job he did on me in his blog. KSAT 12 showed up as the crowd was dispersing and agreed with me that there was no story here, that it was a clear cut Landlord/Tenant dispute and left immediately.
My actions on Monday were taken to prevent any further damage to the building and to prevent Azeneth's supporters from stripping out the rest of the fixtures that are the landlord's property. Were they going to take the rest of the lights, the toilets, the sinks, the AC system???? Those were the only fixtures left in the building by the time I arrived. Just because Azeneth had installed those fixtures does not mean that she owns them and can take them with her when she vacates the building, as her lease makes abundantly clear. What she and her supporters did was blatantly illegal and if I were to take this to civil court she would lose (which I have no intention of doing). The only items of Ms. Domínguez' still inside the building are about four cases of beer, an ice machine, and two broken-down old beer coolers, none of which I want or are of any value to me. I gain no advantage or monetary reward by locking her out yesterday as has been implied on Facebook. All of her art, personal possessions and the shrine to Steve Jordan she removed yesterday, contrary to what Bell Solloa and others are saying. I did not do this because I'm a greedy cold-hearted bastard who wants to steal from a poor old woman, I did this to prevent any further damage to my investment. I estimate Azeneth's people did over $1000 worth of damage to the building and I have no damage deposit of hers to take it out of. This is not personal, it's business. I tried to handle the closing of Salute amicably, but all that went out the window when Azeneth and her supporters did what they did on Monday. Evidently Ms. Domínguez' supporters believe that I should have politely let them finish looting my building. Oh no, I used the F word when confronting a group of people stealing from me, how impolite of me to disrespect my elders that way. As you can see from the many videos of me on the Current blog I was attempting to handle things in a calm, logical, and professional manner as the situation unfolded.
Saluté was going to close no matter who bought the building. The next landlord was not going to let her keep paying 1/3 of the market rate rent for her space, she couldn't afford a rent increase, and she couldn't legally sell the business as an operational bar. If she was so concerned about the long-term survival of her business she shouldn't have been on a month to month lease for the last six years! I grew up going to shows at Saluté and was sad to see it close, but its closing was inevitable, regardless of whether I got involved in the situation or not.
I have no idea why anyone is injecting race into this dispute, none of this has anything to do with race whatsoever, except for the fact that I'm a white male and she's a Chicana. If my last name were Martínez no one would be saying anything about race. This a clear example of reverse racism at its worst. I expected better of you my fellow San Antonians. This is a Landlord/Tenant dispute that has gotten waaaaay out of hand and is now playing out all over social media, where people are saying some pretty despicable things about me and any business I'm remotely involved in. How I'm responsible for Ms. Domínguez' lack of health insurance I have no idea. Maybe if she had taken the AC system too she could afford coverage. This entire situation is absolutely ridiculous and needs to stop.
This is my side of the story and what really happened on Monday, contrary to what Enrique Lopetegui, Bell Solloa, and the rest of Azeneth Domíguez' partisans would have you believe.
July 31, 2012