At their first meeting in three months, Charlie Ball, the new owner of the building at 45 S. French Broad Ave., delivered surprising and difficult news to business partners Aaron Gibbs and Katie Baird. Specifically, he does not see how Hi-Fi Cafe fits into plans for the building, and Hi-Fi Cafe has 3 to 5 months to vacate the premises. Gibbs and Baird, who celebrated 3 years of successfully owning and operating their small cafe in January, were shocked by his announcement. Up until December, all communication had been directly related to the renovations and improvements Ball would create in the space housing the little restaurant. In the lease proposal signed by all parties, specific improvements, which Gibbs and Baird would cover over time in rental payments, were laid out.
In the new year, the owners of the small cafe began to suspect something had changed when other tenants in the building began to share details of new blueprints with Hopey and Co. occupying the space currently held by Hi-Fi Cafe. “We knew nothing was set in stone, and figured that Charlie would tell us directly if he decided to move us to another spot in the building. So we waited.” (Baird) After the official sale of the building last Wednesday, Gibbs and Baird anticipated finally getting word straight from the new landlord. “We just weren’t expecting this. At all. It was the worst possible scenario.” (Gibbs)
Gibbs and Baird, who lack the funding to relocate Hi-Fi Cafe, view this as a deadly blow to their business and the loss of three years of blood, sweat, and tears. “We’ve put everything back into our business. Our nest egg is being ripped away and stolen from us, and we had no say in it. There was no negotiation with us to figure out a way for Hi-Fi to continue.” (Gibbs)
Gibbs and Baird, who closed shop today to process the news, seek legal council, and create a game plan, hope to continue operating normal business hours. A definitive date by which they need to be out of the building was not determined in the Tuesday meeting, and the details of the next few months still need to be discussed. As for plans to relocate, Gibbs and Baird are clear that once the doors close at their current location, they will not reopen.
“This has really been a huge blow. We’ve fought tooth and nail to create a name for ourselves and to bring something real and amazing to the Asheville food scene. We know we’ve accomplished that; our regulars and even new folks get our heart and taste the difference.” (Baird) While they hate to leave their regulars and wish Hi-Fi could continue, the cafe owners see it as the push they needed to begin again in a new place. Most likely, the couple will move out of the area in the summer. Gibbs and Baird, who have a loyal and enthusiastic local following, say they will share plans as they develop. Their Facebook page offers regular updates.
UPDATE 9:10 pm March 13: The manager of the Downtown Market, the business that oversees some 85 to 100 vendors inside the South French Broad Avenue building, said Thursday that he’s negotiated a lease for his business to remain in operation there. He suggested I get in touch with the other business in the building – a discount grocery and a coffee shop, and check on them. I’m in the process of doing that.
ORIGINAL POST March 13, 10:49 am: The building housing the Downtown Market at 45 S. French Broad Avenue, as well as an adjacent vacant lot, have sold for $720,000 to the Ball family aka Troy and Charlie Ball, the owners of Troy and Sons Distilling, Asheville’s legal moonshine makers.
The Downtown Market is home to several small businesses, as well as vendors of antiques, crafts and thrift clothing. A couple of years ago, the building owner went through foreclosure and threatened to kick out the businesses. But the Downtown Market survived the foreclosure transition and has remained open.
At the time, Troy and Sons was rumored to be considering buying the building for an expansion of their distilling business, though nothing happened.
The sale obviously raises a ton of questions that I’ll be trying to answer: what will happen to the Downtown Market? What do the new owners have planned for the building?
CORRECTION: Corrected sale price. Original number was the tax value of the property.