Seven Stars, the convenience store operated out of 105 Park Avenue for nearly 30 years, closed last Wednesday after a turbulent year that included disagreements over rent and lease violations with the new landlord of the property. Tom and Kim Tao, the store’s owners, posted a sign in the window Wednesday thanking the customers for their patronage over the years.
“We want to extend our deepest gratitude to you, not just [for] supporting our business but also supporting our family,” the letter said. Tom and Kim’s three sons grew up in the time that the family owned the store and helped their parents operate it after they got older.
“You were there to see three little boys play joyously around in the store, while giving their parents endless headaches,” the letter said. “You were there to see them help run the business, although with many mistakes, it taught them the value of hard work.
The letter also had some choice words for the new landlord of the property, Jeff Jeffrey, owner of neighboring Cue Recording Studio. Jeffrey, a native of the Falls Church area, bought the property from Ruby Hurt in January of this year and is operating as the landlord of the property under the company name FMR Development, LLC. He had been the “unofficial property manager,” he said, for over 20 years prior to buying the property.
The new landlord was called out by the Taos in their letter to customers. “As you may already know, we will be closing our business by the end of the month, due to constant harassment and deplorable actions of our current landlord,” the letter said. “It is unfortunate, but we are managing and are grateful to our regulars who are supporting us throughout this ordeal.”
Jeffrey told the News-Press that he did not want to dignify the letter with a response and that he attempted to work with the Tao family over the last several months in order to allow them to continue to operate Seven Stars or sell the space to another local business.
“It was so untruthful and inaccurate,” Jeffrey said. “It was completely out of spite because they couldn’t stay for free without me being upset. It’s antithetical to how a person would normally act with a landlord that was being nice.”
According to Jeffrey, he initially attempted to renew the Tao family’s lease but wanted to raise the rent. Jeffrey said that he wanted to raise the Tao family’s rent as well as other current and former tenants of the property he now owns, because he has a mortgage to pay on the building.
Kim Tao and Jeffrey both told the News-Press that the Tao family could not pay an increased amount for rent. “They said they weren’t making much money…I wanted to give them an opportunity to sign a new five-year lease at a new rate, slightly higher….they didn’t want to do that,”Jeffrey said. According to Jeffrey, the Tao family told him they had to go into their savings to cover rent costs every month.
At that point, about six months ago, Jeffrey said he offered the Tao family the opportunity to move out of the building “at no penalty,” because another local business was interested in buying out the business and moving into the space they occupied. According to Jeffrey, the Tao family asked for a $100,000 buyout, which was too much for the potential buyers.
After that impasse, Jeffrey began making renovations to the facade of the building. These renovations included replacing and painting the trim of the storefront, removing lights that were installed into the face of the building and removing a wire from the outside wall of the building that connected a terminal in the store to a satellite that enabled Seven Stars to sell Virginia Lottery tickets. According to the lease agreement the Tao family had with the previous owner, they did not have permission to install the lights into the face of the building or install the lottery wire.
According to Jeffrey, the Tao family called Falls Church police during the removal of the lottery wire. “That of course challenged the relationship that we had when they called the police on [their] landlord for doing something that [they had] done as a tenant that’s basically against the lease,” Jeffrey said.
Jeffrey said that before this incident, the nature of his relationship with the Tao family was amicable. But he began to move towards evicting them for breaches of their lease, conducting restaurant business and cooking food on the premises and other violations, after the incident with the police.
According to legal documents drafted by Becker, Kellogg & Berry on behalf of Jeffrey’s FMR Development, LLC, on October 26, the Tao family was issued a “notice to quit and vacate the property” no later than November 30. After attempts by Jeffrey and the Tao family to negotiate the terms of the notice failed, Jeffrey issued a termination of the lease agreement on November 6, which stipulated that Seven Stars vacate the premises on or before November 30.
The Tao family doesn’t have any immediate plans and are still exploring what they will do next. “We hope to keep in touch with many of you and share with you what comes next after Seven Stars Inc.,” the letter from the Tao family said in closing.
Now that Seven Stars has shut down and vacated the premises, Falls Church-based CD Cellar will move into the vacant space from its current location at 709 W. Broad Street. Though an official move in and open date has not been set, CD Cellar will relocate there at some point during 2016, according to Jeffrey.
With his Cue Recording Studios, Action Music – which relocated into space formerly occupied by Art and Frame of Falls Church – and CD Cellar, Jeffrey said that he envisioned creating a music destination of sorts, as the high-end audio equipment business Command Performance and popular live-music venue State Theatre, are also less than a block away.
“One of my goals now with the building is to turn it into a music row….We have all these really neat music companies in the City and it could be a one-stop destination for music lovers,” Jeffrey said. “That’s the vision I have.”