Jody Rikhilal's family has been selling its curry powders, herbs and masalas downtown for 18 years, and remained at Dallas Farmers Market during Shed No. 2's $3.2-million overhaul a few years ago. But they decided last week that they'd had enough of dealing with the city of Dallas to remain one more day. And so, on Sunday afternoon, the Kurry King abdicated its throne as the longest-operating Shed 2 tenant and high-tailed it to Garland, where, on December 1, the Kurry King opened shop in downtown.
"The city of Dallas wants to raise up the rents and force you to build out your space into something way too expensive for the area," Rikhilal tells Unfair Park this morning. "There's not enough traffic through that building, but they want you to build it out to whatever they feel like is their vision for the shed. They don't want to listen to anyone. We give them any ideas on what the shed needs or how it could be run properly, and they don't want to listen to you. We want to make it a better place for everyone -- not just Kurry King or Mawker Coffee, but the city of Dallas, everybody. But they don't want to listen to anything." Farmers market officials, of course, disagree.
At issue is a dealer permit agreement, which current vendors inside Shed No. 2 must sign by New Year's Day. The agreement says, among other things, that vendors are there solely on a month-to-month basis; that they need to build out their stalls with more permanent walls; and that the city can move the tenants with a 48-hour heads-up "for cause," in the words of Janel Leatherman, the market's adminstrator. Leatherman acknowledges that an earlier version of the agreement, received by Unfair Park yesterday and available here, did say that vendors could be moved "at any time and for any reason." But she says that language in Section 13 -- which one vendors calls "the dealbreaker" -- has since been changed.
Still, as far as some longstanding Shed No. 2 tenants are concerned, the agreement -- which raises tenants' rents between now and 2011, per this October 2008 vendor permit application -- leans too far in the city's favor while giving tenants few, if any, rights.
"Change is hard, and change is difficult," says Leatherman, who, earlier this month, told Unfair Park that she wants to have the shed completely filled by the end of 2010. "We're sad to see the Kurry King go. They were part of the process when the buidling was being designed, when I wasn't here. And the people who see the vision will end up becoming the winners in the long run."
The Kurry King's depature comes just as City Hall's trying to clamp down on neighborhood farmers markets in order to protect its downtown investment. Far as the longtime tenants are concerned, the new permit applications is more of the same: the city taking without offering anything in return. "It's everything for the city," says Rikhilal, "and nothing for the vendor."
Leatherman says rent discounts are being offered to longtime tenants; but, come the end of '11, those deals will have run their course. When, yesterday, I asked the former car dealer behind the latest Shed 2 tenant, the Old World Sausage Company, why he sunk $50,000 into his deli-counter build-out, he said, simply, "I'm a gambler." Others are less inclined toward the risk.
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One Shed 2 tenant points to Dallas-Fort Worth Airport's concessionaire agreements as considerably more equitable than the city's with regards to the farmers market. Which is why, for the last two years, vendors and city officials have been back-and-forthing over this latest permit application, which could end with some vendors abandoning the shed just as others (including Pecan Lodge Catering, Aint No Mo Butter Cakes and a couple selling shrimp) are signing up in order to save on rent elsewhere, not to mention utilities and other associated costs
"We didn't want to sign that thing," Kurry King's Rikhilal says. "We don't see why we should spend so much money on the space and then have them tell us to go if they didn't like what we did. They said we were going to be grandfathered in. What we had was sufficient six months ago. Now, they say, 'It's not what we have envisioned' -- meaning the grid walls -- so we made that decision to leave. And they didn't try to stop us. They said, 'It's your decision, do what you want, go ahead.' So we left. And it was a difficult decisison, but we looked at the logistics. We have our own store in Garland, and we're paying less in rent than they're asking for, and we have the packaging facility here. So we thought, 'We'll be in our hometown and go from there.' I didn't even have time to tell all our customers, but they'll find out eventually."
Leatherman wishes the Kurry King all the best, but says, well, they didn't get it, which is why they got out.
"For two years they've known the direction we're headed and known what's expected, and they have made a business decision," she says. "But we've got to move forward with this building, and people coming in now understand where we're headed."