“Popcorn Lady” leaves Metra venue

By JEFFREY BISHKU-AYKUL
Assistant to the Editor

Hyde Park popcorn vendor Gloria Henderson’s lease on a retail space under the Metra Electric line officially expired Tuesday, April 30.

The closing of Glorious Confectionary Le Noir, located at 1551 E. 51st St., followed a strained relationship between Henderson and her landlord, Metra, from whom she began renting the space as part of a five-year lease in May 2008.

So strained, in fact, that both parties may take legal action against one another. While Metra waits on unpaid rent from Henderson, she says the rail operator should be held accountable for her troubles with roof leakages over the years.

The details of the back-and-forth between Henderson and Metra are typical – if more costly – of soured tenant-landlord relationships. They center around conditions at the property and who is responsible for repairing what.

Henderson opened her first confectionery on 47th Street in 1997. She says a 1991 spine injury rendered her disabled and, according to a Department of Human Services official, she “was given job placement services, transportation, workshops on building her business, and candy making classes.”

Henderson said her most recent store underwent thousands of dollars in electrical and sewage work before opening and has been closed twice since. The first closing, she says, took place because her store’s ceiling was leaking, and the second, in June 2012, because she would not repair “water damaged ceiling panels” in violation of the city Department of Public Health codes. It has remained closed since and Henderson said there is mold in the store.

Henderson’s ceiling panels separate her store from its roof – part of which extends beyond Metra’s train tracks – as well as the gutter for collecting water below it. Henderson said Metra is at fault for the damage done to her tiled ceiling and so has not paid her landlord for months. She owes Metra $26,920 in unpaid rent as of April 19, according to its records.

“Metra has gone to great lengths to accommodate this tenant,” said Metra spokesman Michael Gillis to the Herald in an April 26 e-mail. “We have allowed her to continue occupancy of the premises despite prolonged nonpayment of rent.”

He adds, “When she defaulted in the payment of rent we allowed her continue to stay for a number of months in order to review the matter further. After our review, we concluded that the lease must be terminated.”

According to a Jan. 7, 2013 report by engineering services firm Raths Raths and Johnson, Inc. requested by Henderson’s lawyer at the time, Adam Goodman of Goodman Law Offices LLC., drainage and moisture issues plague the space.

In its report, RRJ stated that it “identified numerous conditions in the exterior enclosure that could contribute to moisture intrusion” and stated that an “interior corrugated panel system and drainage…does not appear to be functioning as intended.”

The report also states that on her roof, “Unsealed cracks are also visible in the exposed concrete that can allow water to bypass the waterproofing membrance and leak to the interior.”

According to a May 31, 2012 appraisal commissioned by Henderson and done by Construction Permit Consultants (CPC), a new roof and drainage system would cost $32,000.

In an April 19 e-mail response to questions from the Herald, Metra spokesman Michael Gillis said, “if water was leaking from the roof, under Metra’s tracks, that would be a drainage issue that should have been remedied by the tenant during the performance of the Project improvements.”

“The Project,” in this case, refers to a clause in Metra’s lease agreement with Henderson limiting its liabilities, signed by Philip A. Pagano, former executive director of Metra. Pagano committed suicide shortly after it was found out that he had appropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars from Metra for vacation pay.

The lease states, “[Metra's] share of [the ceiling drainage system] cost has been determined to be included in the twelve (12) months Rent abatement … and Lessor has no further obligation for the Project costs.” Metra’s reimbursement amounted to 12 months worth of rent, or $13,200.

Henderson said she does not have any proof of the abatement in her paperwork and that Metra did not inform her in her lease that the facility had a faulty exposed roof.

Henderson said she would like for Metra to provide her with a new kitchen or a food truck.

“I’m hoping I’ll be able to take this matter to court,” she said in reference to her roof. If the judge rules in favor of Metra, Henderson says, “they don’t have to give me anything. I’ll just walk away.” She said she “can’t let Metra have the last word.”

Michael Gillis’ April 26 e-mail indicated that the organization has now “referred this matter to outside counsel for further handling” and is “contemplating litigation.” The litigation would regard Henderson’s unpaid rent, according to spokesperson Meg Reile.

Gillis added that “[Metra] can have no further comment at this time. We believe our position is supported under the terms and conditions of the lease.”

j.bishku@hpherald.com