It is hard to be optimistic and cheerful all the time when you really feel like people are out to get you. Sound paranoid?!! -- I never used to be paranoid - now, I am really convinced that I'm being harassed. Good Food Market is being attacked by "someone" who is determined to shut down our prepared food case or bankrupt us with legal fees trying to prove our innocence.
In the past month, GFM has been visited by both a zoning inspector and a health inspector because someone has complained that we are violating codes by having our prepared food case. Interestingly, both inspectors commented during their visit that the caller was "extremely knowledgable" about code, the vocabulary and the process. (I should also note here that I have yet to receive an official violation notice).
I guess I picked the wrong time to open up a grocery store because the Department of Licensing and Inspection is in the process of trying to rewrite codes to reflect modern business practices and that the C1 code is in the process of being revised. This has led me to be caught in the middle of an open discussion at L&I about what this code actually means. Why does this matter to me? Let me explain to you how this affects a small local grocery store so profoundly.
I am told that the zoning code has been the same since 1940. Under this code, a C1 building such as 12 W. Willow Grove Avenue can be home to a grocery store. This grocery store can sell meats, pharmaceuticals, confections, packaged goods, dairy, bakery goods, produce and many other things typically sold by grocery stores. Since the people who wrote this code knew that it would be around for a while and that retail evolves, they added a final paragraph that stated a grocery store in C1 can also have "accessory" use to provide the exact services that all other grocery stores have provided that it doesn't take up more that 25% of the square footage of the establishment. Now, let me ask you: do you know any other grocery store in the United States that DOESN'T have a prepared food case and deli counter?
Well, I have been trying to get to the bottom of this for months now. So finally, I got brave and called the person that really should know -- Jeanne Klinger, the head of L&I. I have to say that I was blown away that she answered the phone and she was very polite, so patient and took her time to speak with me. I was bold and I asked her why every other grocery store can have a deli case but I cannot. She didn't say that I couldn't, but she didn't say I could either. Her reply was that L&I isn't sure that THOSE grocery stores should be allowed to have the cases, either.
Now, I understand that if L&I wants to change this, this may be a good change and they may have the right to change it. But that really isn't my point here. My question still remains: why can they continue doing what every grocery store in the US does but I can't?
And I have to complain here, I don't think this is a fair spot to put an already-challenged small business in! If the L&I battle is with corporate grocery stores, why are they using me as the example? Do you think ShopRite cares if I live or die? Do you think shutting my deli case down is going to give the legal precedence to win a case against corporate lawyers?
Of course, I know my plight isn't nor should be a concern of L&I but it is obviously the reason why the complaint caller called in the first place! They knew I would be forced to fight a legal battle to prove my innocence and to do what everyone else can do. They are hoping to bankrupt me with legal fees.
I'm writing this because I want you to understand that Good Food Market is in danger of extinction and the people who want that to happen are using horribly nasty tactics to accomplish their mission.