Food News

Tom Spicer Says Landlord Wants to Pave Over Garden Paradise for Parking Lot (Or ... Not?)

A short while ago, Tom Spicer -- proprietor of produce-providing Spiceman's FM 1410 on Bryan and Fitzhugh, two doors down from Jimmy's Food Store -- sent word via his e-mailing list that he's in danger of losing his garden. Said Spicer when I called him this afternoon, earlier today a man came to his front door and said he was there to measure the garden, which, till Spicer got hold of it a few years back, was a barren patch of dirt and nothing. Spicer wanted to know why the man needed to measure his space.

"To give the owner a quote on what it would cost to pave it," the man told Spicer, who told him, "I think you're mistaken." The man told him: No, I'm not. Spicer turned him away, then went to his computer and banged out what appears to be a farewell, which Hanna will  post on City of Ate, titled "they paved paradise and put up a parking lot."

Spicer had always worried this day would come. The owners -- a partnership between Jack Kemp and attorney Robert Udashen and wife Karen, according to Dallas Central Appraisal District records -- never gave him a long-term lease on the garden space, Spicer says. (The storefront on Fitzhugh is owned by Tomaino Properties and managed by Michael Turner, who tells me today he knows nothing of a plan to pave over the garden. But he wouldn't. It's not his land.) Spicer says he was about to ask for a three-year guarantee; at present, he can be kicked out with 60-day notice.

Several messages have been left on Kemp's cell, which goes straight to voice mail; Spicer says he too cannot reach the landlord. I've also left messages for Udashen at his office and home.

[Update at 2:35 p.m.: Spicer called to say he just spoke with Kemp. "And he assures me it's nothing," Spicer says. "He says they'll do it across the street. But how am I supposed to feel good after this? This development forces me to get some guarantee that what I've invested in the spring and summer crops -- and what I'm about to invest in them -- I can get a return on. ... But I have a lot of support. Maybe this is something I can make something better out of. I'm not sure what it'll be ..."]

But Spicer says he could see this coming -- at least, ever since the grocery store opened up across Fitzhugh a few months back.

Once a place where Jimmy's and Spicer's customers could park, the grocery store's parking lot has since been deemed off-limits, with the grocer's owners threatening to tow anyone visiting its cross-the-street customers.

"If the grocery store had been more neighborly and not chased everyone off, this might not have happened," says Spicer, who provides fresh produce both to restaurants and anyone else who walks through his door.

In his e-mail, Spicer writes that "I'm hoping to hold a few fundraisers so I can buy an urban parcel to cultivate," and he says this afternoon he's looking out in places like Sunnyvale -- something close to the city, at the very least. He doesn't want to. But right now, he says, what other choice does he have, if he can't talk to the landlord and if there's a guy waiting outside to measure his garden for a concrete coffin?

"I am coming up on spring planting, so I'll miss my whole spring and summer," he says. "I bought seeds and have plants en route. I'm in shock. I don't even have whatever it takes to go on at this point, because I put so much fucking money into it at this point. I mean, sure, just because he's getting an estimate doesn't mean he wants to do it. But why would I want to bother going on?"

Updates forthcoming, should anyone else call back.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky