West Seattle, Washington
Shortly after we posted the pix in the post below, a PR person for GEE wrote back to confirm we weren’t seeing things:
Yes, Gee Automotive has to close its door at the end of business today, as they do not have enough staff available to keep it open until October 7. It is no surprise that many of their employees have found positions with other dealerships in the area, as they are great people.
We have sent the GEE (all capital letters is their official branding, so we will go with that from here on out) Automotive PR team a note asking if the Sunday closing is still on, or if there’s any progress toward a buyer. We’ll let you know what we hear back. Meantime, a few notes: As promised, we did check court records for the names of the four additional former Huling employees whose names were mentioned in the GEE lawsuit, separate from the three who are facing trial; records do not show charges filed at this point against those other four. Meantime, since we drive through Fauntleroy/Alaska at least four times a day, it’s easy to notice when things change, and three things caught our eye at the Gee lots this afternoon. First, some of the cars are no longer pulled all the way up to the sidewalk:
Second, a U-Haul truck happened to be out by one of the service bays (yes, we know, could be absolutely coincidental, could even be there for some service work).
Third, the “conventional media” is circling (again):
Romy Ehrsam (photo left) is likely the youngest of the many artists having receptions in West Seattle in the next few weeks — 6 years old! The rubber-stamp craft store Friends and Company in The Junction is hosting a reception for Romy tomorrow night, during which she will sign copies of the stamp she designed (photo below, shown with the original block print it’s taken from); it’s being distributed by what Friends and Company tells us is one of the industry’s bigger names, Idaho-based Rubbermoon. The reception starts at 6, signing at 7. Romy’s a second-generation stamp artist; her mom Gretchen Ehrsam designs them too.
We couldn’t get the lawsuit document online from King County Superior Court — too fresh, they said, check back in a few days — but we were able to get it just moments ago from Gee Automotive’s PR firm, and have uploaded it to our server. Click here to read it (12-page PDF). We will be reading it along with you. (Also a reminder if you missed it last night, we posted a lengthy statement from Sharon Huling regarding some of the accusations that already had appeared publicly, pre-lawsuit.) 5:35 PM UPDATE: If you don’t have the time or inclination to read the whole suit (actually fairly brief as such things go), here are a few random notes from our first readthrough:Read More
As the date for the threatened shutdown at Gee West Seattle approaches, we just heard again from the Huling family. Sharon Huling is the wife of Steve Huling, who ran the business before the sale to Gee. She e-mailed WSB to say, “Below is a statement that I would like to make on behalf of our family to the community. … It would be greatly appreciated if you would post it as there has been additional press about the Gee’s accusations printed today in the West Seattle Herald.” (The Herald article she refers to is here; the Times article mentioned below is here.) Her statement, unedited:
To our fellow community members,
It is upsetting to see our family’s reputation attacked in the newspapers. But I remain confident that the truth will come out – it always does – and thus our reputation will be restored. The Seattle Times article was pretty brutal to us, 19 quotes from the Gees, 5 or 6 from Steve, and select few facts. If you do the math, that’s about a 3:1 ratio (Gees:Hulings). There are also several statements in the West Seattle that warrant correcting if only in the pursuit of honesty and neighborly obligation:
First; the Gees made a promise to us not to disclose the sale price of the dealership, which they have now done (though inaccurately) and in the paper. By doing so they have broken their promise.
Second; last winter our family did not give $100,000 to the victim. What happened is this; Steve, on behalf of Huling Bros. and immediately upon learning about the questionable sale of the truck to the victim, unwound the truck sale and refunded the money to the customer. This occurred over a year ago at the time of sale. Then in January, immediately upon learning from the police that 3 former employees would be charged with a crime, our family chose to act with integrity and make restitution to the gentleman for the $70,000 our employees were accused of stealing though we were not obligated to do this. But to be perfectly clear, Huling Bros. and Steve were never accused of doing anything wrong.
Third; my husband did call Ryan Gee and Cline Davis immediately (I was present) upon learning from the police that former employees would be charged with a crime and it is they who chose not to return his phone calls thus missing out on the opportunity to secure some goodwill and stand with our family together against injustice.
Ryan Gee appears to being trying to fix the blame on my husband Steve and try him in the media. The Gees have clearly stated that they have a self-serving motive; suing us. It is very sad to read because of the vehemence of their attack and its inaccuracies. Just because Mr. Gee says something doesn’t make it so. In our great country we still honor the belief that people are innocent until proven guilty. My husband is an honorable man and I encourage the media to investigate the accuracy of Ryan’s statements, their reputation and track record in business east of the mountains and especially here with the people who worked for both of us. There you will find a story of the true tragedy; the people who will soon find themselves without a job.
Fourth; I am confused about Ryan Gee saying that their partnership “ran out of money” in his press release because one of their business partners – Wolff family members (Wolff Enterprises, LLC associated with Wolff Cos, etc.) from Spokane and Arizona – are worth hundreds of millions, possibly even a billion dollars. The Wolff”s are huge developers on a national level. One can only speculate that as such they could have made other choices like staying open until they are able to sell the dealerships thus not leaving 160 employees out on the street to fend for themselves. Our hearts go out to them and their families. Again, that is the real tragedy of this story. Still I am glad to see that our old Puget Sound competitors have been calling and making offers to many of our former employees whom they obviously value.
Fifth; I think that it is disingenuous to think that you can sell 3 dealerships in 2 weeks time, especially in this down market, this is the intent the Gees expressed to their employees last week when they announced their immediate plans to sell or close the business by Oct. 7th. It took us over a year to select a broker and find a buyer.
Sixth; besides breaking their promise of confidentiality, the Gees, as my husband stated in the WSH, broke other promises like changing the closing date for the sale at the last minute, more than once, and now they have broken their lease agreement. There have been other broken promises like saying they would meet to discuss differences, then not showing up or canceling at the last minute. Ryan has stated that they chose not to use the Huling name when in reality they did not buy the rights to use the Huling Bros. name, we purchased our name back during negotiations. What happened, happened to us, to Huling Bros. – the Gee’s are not us – a message they failed miserably at communicating to the public, a responsibility that lies with them.
Despite all of the negative press initiated by Ryan and his team, our family is doing well. There is nothing that I have written here that isn’t common knowledge, but I would like to add some additional perspective; in June the Gees – through their lawyer – wrote to Steve and his brother Tom saying that if they did not sell to them the properties the dealerships stand on “for less than market value” then they would sue us. My husband still has this letter. Ryan’s recent actions, with his threat to sue us in the Gee’s recent press release, lend credence to this statement.
We are thankful for and we welcome the positive reinforcement from our friends, former employees and former satisfied customers whom we cultivated through our good standing in the Seattle business community for over 60 years. Under Steve’s leadership our dealership sold thousands of cars a year over the course of many years. Huling Bros. consistently earned the highest ratings for customer service in the industry from the manufacturers and the public. Steve was also was awarded the Time Magazine Dealer Quality Award for the state of Washington and belonged to many civic and business organizations. We will continue to support and be active members of the community. We are deeply saddened that 3 men, who only worked for Huling Bros. a few short months, have caused so much heartache, for the victim and for everyone involved. We are people of integrity and we will continue to hold our heads high.
We are e-mailing Gee Automotive with a link to this post and offering them the opportunity to publish an unedited statement here too, if they so choose. Meantime, the clock ticks to this Sunday, when we will see if one of West Seattle’s biggest businesses does indeed close, costing more than 100 people their jobs.
We have an informal policy that if anyone involved in or close to a situation surfaces in comments on a post about it, we will single out that comment to be sure you see it, rather than just leave it there to be discovered, or not. So, if you missed it below this post, the following comment came in very early this morning, signed Sharon Huling. (The residence-related remarks relate to a discussion in that original comment thread.)
My family and I are deeply saddened for our friends and former employees who will be losing their jobs when Gee West Seattle closes its doors. Our hearts go out to them.
I have lived in West Seattle for 27 years. My husband and kids were all raised here. We are listed in the phone book, though we have never lived on Sunset. We love WS and will continue to be a part of this community.
There have been many inaccurate and wrongful accusations recently in the news, in blogs and in the above quote from MD Johnson, Inc. With the GeeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pointing the blame and threatening a lawsuit there really isnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t much that I can say except that the truth will come out in due time.
When news of the Gee announcement came the other day, some comments here suggested the company could have benefited from a PR campaign after the takeover. We found a company, MD Johnson Inc., that is using the whole sad story as a teaching example, suggesting Gee also could have benefited from “financial advisory services” in the deal; MD Johnson provides such services as part of its middleman role in dealership sales. Its “educational” document online (click to read) consists mostly of a Times article regarding the original scandal, prefaced with commentary such as:
This is obviously a case of the seller and the broker failing to inform the buyer of what was actually going on in the business, afraid the truth would stop the sale from happening. I can only assume that the seller and broker will be found to be complicit in their actions and will be found liable for significant damages to the buyers.
We recently mentioned that a new eatery has opened at ActivSpace (the big red building on Harbor Ave just north of The Bridge), RiverHouse Creperie, which we just learned here is a spinoff of a Farmers’ Market business. Now comes word, via nwsource.com, of another opening at ActivSpace — West Seattle-based online toy sellers Nico & Zoe now have a public showroom there. More on their site.
Somebody texted us with this last night; we called Gee immediately, they denied it (one of the people we talked to said, “that’s a popular rumor”). Apparently they lied to us, according to newspaper and tv reports just posted online (big thanks to all the people who sent us the links while we were offline for the past hour, and our apologies to the person who went out of their way to text us – next time we’ll just go with it). If they really go through with the shutdown, they will have lasted less than nine months.
-Today’s Times features West Seattle cancer survivor Anita Mitchell, whose art will be on display Tuesday at Swedish Medical Center.
-Event that didn’t make it to the latest WS Weekend Lineup: Four Aims Center, which took over the ex-Cat’s Eye Cafe near Lincoln Park, has an open house this afternoon/evening, with free yoga, meditation, and refreshments.
-The West Seattle Birdcam has flown away. Sorry to see it go. Can’t believe we have so few linkable live cams in WS; if you know of one that’s not on our WS “Live” Cams page (nothing too “adult,” sorry), please let us know.
-WSB reader Gayle e-mailed us to make sure everyone knows about West Seattle’s newest food option, which you might miss unless you frequent ActivSpace on Harbor Ave: River House, open Mon-Sat at ActivSpace. Gayle says, “They serve crepes (sweet and savory), sandwiches, salads, daily specials, espresso drinks, baked goods and gelato Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ Also offered are homemade sauces. Try the Fresh Pear Ã¢â‚¬â€œ no sugar added. Coffee served is from Vashon Island Roasters. … Yummy!”
-On the door at La Rustica tonight: “Closed For Remodel/thanks for your patience.” (Interesting way to put it.)
-On the gate at Hotwire tonight: Sidewalk Cinema rained out one more time. This was supposed to be the reschedule of last month’s “Monty Python & the Holy Grail” rainout. When the raindrops started smacking the windshield just as we entered The Junction, we were mega-bummed, to say the least.
-On the window at Chuck & Sally’s tonight: The same “closed for several days” sign that’s been up for several weeks. City records show that someone filed a “land use code” complaint a few days after our early September report, but no indication exactly what they’re alleged to have violated, and no resolution of the complaint yet.
More news from the east edge of The Junction: In a little brown house kitty-corner from the 42nd/Oregon development plan we posted about yesterday, The Good Book is closing after five years in business. Co-owner Shirley Geller sent us the photo at left and asked us to let you all know this:
West Seattle’s only Christian store is going out of business. Everything is on sale – including the fixtures. We need to sell everything by October 15th. Our hours are 10 to 4 everyday except Sundays. Telephone 206-935-1722. Address: corner of 42nd SW and SW Oregon St.
Shirley says a chiropractor moving from another WS location will be taking over the space.
The West Seattle Junction Association e-mailed us to help get the word out about its job posting for an event planner to help with Hometown Holidays (Christmas, after all, is just 3 months away); checking out the listing, we noticed WSJA revamped its website sometime in the past week, with features including an updated Junction business directory. On a semi-related note, we discovered another Junction business is blogging; we’ve mentioned the Clementine blog before — now meet the Friends and Company blog (belated congrats on the store‘s 10th anniversary).
Fifteen days after the death of its owner on Labor Day, and just a few hours after we photographed the bouquet resting against the then-still-closed-doors with a note of sympathy (photo left), Tervo’s Mini-Mart on Fauntleroy is back in business — doors open and neon signs lit, as of when we drove by a short time ago.
Just ’cause we know you’re wondering … and ’cause we are … and ’cause 3 1/2 long months have passed since a WSB reader was told by TJ’s to “feel free to check back sometime this fall” … we jumped the gun here in the final days of summer and checked. The official Trader Joe’s party line, according to what their media-relations department told us by phone, is: Next Northwest store, Bellingham (opening a week from Friday). Next Northwest store after that, Bend, OR (where Hack Bend is watching construction closely). Then their “real estate team” delivers its next scouting report to Trader Joe’s kahunas in January or February. Hmm.
Tomorrow’s a big day in West Seattle — we already have mentioned two major events (the SWFYS breakfast and the WSCSP meeting) — now here’s another one: Clementine, next to Pagliacci in The Junction, will be open till 9 pm tomorrow with tons of fun to celebrate its first birthday. (In addition to its regular website, Clementine also keeps a blog highlighting new offerings.) Happy birthday!
As the number of pay-to-park lots around WS increases, watch closely for the signs, and do be aware that the enforcers make the rounds — as discovered today by the spouse of a regular reader. Reportedly, more than a dozen cars in the lot near Wells Fargo in The Junction all got simultaneously ticketed during the Farmers’ Market across the street. The reader went back for a closer look at the signage … and yes, it’s posted (reader photo @ right) … but that doesn’t make the $35 ticket any easier to take. (Payable online, courtesy of the industrious folks at Diamond Parking.) Yes, of course lot owners have the right to charge whatever the traffic will bear, as discussed after our recent post about the future Fauntleroy Place site converting to a Diamond-managed pay lot. But you can’t help wonder if it’s a slippery slope. The Junction merchants have worked hard to keep several free lots available for us all, and lobbied against paid parking on WS streets (earning us the envy of other neighborhoods). But as the pay lots multiply, can the city resist trying for a cut of the action?
On each and every WSB post, there’s just no telling where you all will take the discussion — or if you’ll choose to discuss at all. Last month, we mentioned the addition of an ADULT DVD sign to a Morgan Junction market, with a headline citing Spanky’s, the adult retailer that closed on mid-Cali some years back. That led to some discussion of Spanky’s in the comments; tonight, its former proprietor wrote us (comments are closed on the original item since 3+ weeks have passed) to set the record straight. Here’s his note:Read More
–Taco Del Mar in Westwood Village has opened.
-Another business is celebrating a grand opening: We just heard from TouchTech Systems, which has moved into the former West Seattle Helpline spot (they’re now in the WS Community Resource Center) in The Junction (along the corridor at 4517 Cali). CompanyÃ‚Â president Brian Presser,Ã‚Â a WS resident, describes TouchTech Systems as:
We are a small local companyÃ‚Â thatÃ‚Â providesÃ‚Â multimedia marketing and communication solutions for the internet (such as websites) as well as interactive kiosks forÃ‚Â a multitude of uses.Ã‚Â WeÃ‚Â sell andÃ‚Â provide service for essentially allÃ‚Â Apple computer equipment andÃ‚Â areÃ‚Â a reseller of mostÃ‚Â majorÃ‚Â hardware and software brands including Xerox, HP, Adobe and Microsoft.