Poppleton gift shop owners evicted by new landlord Their hope to buy building suspected as the reason

November 05, 1993|By Joan Jacobson | Joan Jacobson,Staff Writer

A year ago, Ben Prestbury and Janet Hall opened a card and children's gift shop, bringing some life to a desolate block in the poor Poppleton neighborhood in West Baltimore.

Yesterday, they closed Bundles of Joy in the 1000 block of W. Baltimore St. They had been evicted by their landlord, who gave no reason for his action.

Last month, the landlord, Frederick Avenue Development Corp., headed by Leonard F. Moyer, bought the building that houses the card shop and 11 other renovated properties on the block -- all of them storefronts with apartments on the second floor. Several of the storefronts are vacant.

The city sold the properties for $150,000. The previous owner had defaulted on $1.4 million in city and state loans.

Mr. Prestbury and Ms. Hall said Mr. Moyer told them they had to leave shortly after a Sept. 25 article in The Sun in which the shopkeepers said they were disappointed they had not been given a chance to buy the property from the city.

They said Mr. Moyer delivered the message in person at the brightly decorated shop at 1023 W. Baltimore St.

"When I asked why we had to leave," recalled Mr. Prestbury, "[Mr. Moyer] said, 'Because I'm the owner.' "

Shortly after that conversation, Mr. Prestbury and Ms. Hall said, they received an eviction notice because they had failed to pay rent for the two months prior to the new owner taking title to the properties.

They said they did not pay the rent because ownership was in question and they weren't sure whom to send payments to.

That eviction was denied last month by a rent court judge who ruled that Mr. Moyer had no legal right to the back rent.

Subsequently, Mr. Moyer gave the shopkeepers a proper eviction notice, giving them 60 days to vacate -- as a landlord is entitled to do under Maryland law.

Mr. Moyer did not return several telephone calls.

Mr. Prestbury and Ms. Hall believe they were evicted in retaliation for their comments in The Sun.

"We had hoped to buy this building, but [the sale to someone else] has put a damper on our plans," the article quoted her as saying.

Yesterday, they were packing the last boxes of gift items to be placed in storage until they find a new store. The colorful decorations that graced the store's walls had been taken down.

"We've given so much to the neighborhood. I feel very bad that we have to leave," Ms. Hall said.

She noted that children and senior citizens routinely came into the shop for cards and gifts.

Often, she said, cards were sold at a discount to children, and she and Mr. Prestbury addressed and mailed cards for elderly people who can't write.

"This cuts off our livelihood, and to have to move out of the store is a burden," said Mr. Prestbury.

As they were packing yesterday, Jesse Irvin, 74, came to say goodbye. He lives in Hollins House, a residence for senior citizens across the street from the shop.

"To me, they gave good service all the way around," Mr. Irvin said.

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