By Bryan Boyhan
One of the oldest businesses on Sag Harbor’s Main Street is the subject of a bitter family dispute that may result in it being forced out.
The owners of Schiavoni’s IGA Market, Michael and Jennifer Schiavoni, have received notice from the building’s owner that if they do not agree to a substantial rent increase, they will be asked to vacate the premises. The building’s owners are Michael’s mother, Victoria Schiavoni and his aunt, Doris Schiavoni.
“We don’t want to leave,” said Michael Schiavoni in an interview this week. “We can’t afford to pay the increase and I’m at my wits end.”
Currently, Michael and Jennifer say they pay about $10,800 a month to the building’s owners, Schiavoni Family, LLC, for a total of about $129,600 a year. A letter from Doris and Victoria’s lawyer, Kathryn Dalli, states the future rent per month will be $17,068, or about $204,816, a more than $75,000 increase per year.
Victoria Schiavoni declined to comment on the negotiations, saying she felt it was a family matter, but said she was hopeful the two sides would be able to resolve their differences.
But while Victoria remained quiet, Michael said he hoped to garner community support. This week tensions had run so high, he had intended to put up petitions at the cash registers in the market. Ultimately, however, he said he would wait to see if his brother, Andrew, could help negotiations.
The building and the business had been owned by brothers John Schiavoni — Doris’ late husband — and Joseph Schiavoni — Victoria’s late husband and Michael’s father. But John sold his share of the business to Joseph in the 1980s, and ultimately the business went to Michael.
The building, upon the death of both John and Joseph in the past few years, went to their widows.
For much of that time, the lease to operate the market in the building was negotiated and handled informally among family members.
“It was about a paragraph long,” said Doris Schiavoni. “It was a joke.”
At issue in particular is a calculation of the actual usable square footage in the building. A recent survey conducted for Schiavoni Family, LLC, indicates there is about 7,600 square feet of retail space, according to Michael. He and his wife maintain there is only about 5,500 square feet of usable retail space, and cite a survey completed at the time of Joseph’s death as corroboration.
“We got our surveyor and we walked the building,” said Doris Schiavoni. “It is what it is. I have plans, diagrams. I’ve been working on this for more than eight months.”
When calculated, the rent requested by Schiavoni Family, LLC amounts to a little over $26 square foot annually. Doris said she believed she could charge as much as $35 or $40 a square foot.
While the couple would be prepared to pay similar to the $26 square foot rate, according to Jennifer Schiavoni, they feel the difference in interpreting the actual usable area makes the cost prohibitive.
“Going into the summer, our sales were off by about 12 percent,” said Jennifer. “Now they’re down almost 18 percent from this time last year.”
A letter from Schiavoni Family LLC attorney to Michael and Jennifer’s attorney, Marcia Hefter, notes that Michael and Jennifer have been operating the market without a signed lease since July of 2010.
“…my client has reached its breaking point,” the letter reads. “Both members of the Schiavoni Family, LLC have instructed me to advise you that if your client does not accept the following modified lease terms, unfortunately he must vacate the premises.”