ST. ANN – For seven months, a small shopping center along Rock St. Charles has been a mess. Parking at the Shoppes at St. Ann was filled with wooden pallets, used toilets and other rubbish. For weeks, chain-link fences separated parking from shopping.
The problem started as a relatively simple roof repair. But construction has already dragged on for so long that almost all businesses here have been affected. Some report fewer customers. Some packed up and left. Others simply shut down.
“It’s terrible,” said Kim McNeal, the owner of the Studio Kouture salon, which has been closed since July. “I’m just trying to survive. It’s just crazy.”
The project is the result of a three-year legal dispute between square owners Christopher Nasrallah and Michael Rizzo. Nasrallah sued Rizzo, saying Rizzo would not share financial records as required by the partnership. Rizzo, in court filings, said Nasrallah had full access to all accounting information and financial records.
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But the consequences have put a receiver appointed by the court in charge of the property. Then storms hit last summer during roof repair work, which led to leaks damaging some of the businesses. Now, at least five of them — two tax firms, a nail salon, a children’s gym and McNeal Beauty Salon — are being renovated.
McNeal is considering hiring a lawyer to help.
“It’s really a mess,” McNeal said. “We have to rebuild our business and they have to accommodate us.”
Nasrallah called the process “very frustrating.” Rizzo has not sent Nasrallah, a real estate agent, his share of the commissions, Nasrallah said, and will not allow him to access bank statements for the partnership. And the court-appointed receiver, Mark Zvibleman, has been slow to make repairs and has driven up costs, Nasrallah claims.
“Tenants have called me and said they’ve had nothing but bad, bad meetings with the receiver,” Nasrallah said in an interview.
Zvibleman, managing director for SVN Infinity Commercial Group, said the reopening of businesses has been handled as quickly as possible.
“Almost everyone renewed their lease,” Zvibleman said. “Everyone was happy.”
Rizzo did not respond to requests for comment.
Not all business owners say they are affected. But some said it was a disaster.
Shops in St. Ann, on St. Charles Rock and Ashby, has almost a dozen tenants, including a health care center, event space, Boost Mobile, smoke shop, Chinese restaurant and a Double Bubble Coin Laundromat, which is owned by Nasrallah and Rizzo.
But four tenants have left the square since Zvibleman’s appointment.
“They’re all gone,” Lynetta Wings, owner of La Wings Home Health Care II. “Nobody thinks it’s open. It looks like she’s doomed.”
The Wings business has been in the Shoppes at St. Louis. Ann for four years with no problems, but she said Zvibleman and his team have been terrible.
Over the summer, her ceiling collapsed, the HVAC unit gave out, and a leak caused interior damage. Zvibleman wouldn’t call her, and she had to get a city inspector out to force the receiver to fix the damage, she said.
The receiver also changed the locks on her event space business, then evicted her last fall despite being up to date with the lease, she said.
“To face them is unbearable,” Wings said. “It’s overwhelming. It brings tears to my eyes.”
The We Rock the Spectrum children’s playground left the square for good last fall, and Liberty Tax left for another office space less than a mile away. H&R Block moved a few doors down, and Queen Nails is out of business pending renovations.
Tai Nguyen, owner of Queen Nails, said he would have moved his business entirely if he had known it would take so long. His wife had to find a new job so they could put food on the table; Nguyen was in his shop every day helping construction workers to speed up the process.
“They kept telling me two more weeks, three more weeks. “If they told me six months, I probably wouldn’t stay here,” he said. “I can’t survive without working for six months.”
After the rain destroyed the interior of the salon, no one from the roofing company or the tradesman did anything for two weeks, he said. Nguyen estimated he lost up to $50,000 in equipment and supplies to water damage and subsequent mold. And he estimates he’s lost $120,000 in revenue.
Queen Nails is preparing to reopen soon, but Nguyen worries about the business she’s already lost.
“I lost all my customers,” Nguyen said. “Hopefully when I open, they’ll be back.”