XENIA — A small business that has called the fairgrounds “home” for 44 years may have to move elsewhere after receiving a notice from the Greene County Agricultural Society terminating their current contract.
Fairgrounds Furniture, founded in 1973 by Harold “Mountain” Hill, has been operated by children Melissa Hill-Smith and Mark Hill since the older Hill died two years ago. The store stayed open six days a week, operating business as usual, but things began to change when Hamvention announced it was coming to Greene County and the Fairgrounds.
“We were thrilled. It’s still fantastic,” Mark said.
But with the new event came additional needs — the fairgrounds simply needed more space.
According to Mark and Melissa, through a series of negotiations with the fair board they agreed to close their business for five days and vacate one of their two leased buildings — the warehouse where additional furniture is stored — to accommodate the event.
A new lease was drafted to include the compromise, and was signed by parties in January.
Two months ago, the business was approached again, Mark said, with a new proposition. They were asked if they would vacate both buildings — 7,000 square feet packed with merchandise — and close for two weeks. This would allow for preparation for the event — which had an attendance of nearly 30,000 this year — and allow Hamvention to use both buildings. Hamvention currently has a contract to use the fairgrounds for its next two events.
“Two weeks would ruin us. I can’t be closed for half a month,” Mark said. “They even acknowledged that it was a monumental task.”
But the siblings came up with a proposal to be compensated for related costs — adding up moving and storage, bills, and loss of business. They asked the fair board to compensate them $24,000.
“They were shocked,” Mark said. “We didn’t hear anything more.”
Until board members delivered a letter to Melissa Aug. 23, which stated that the proposed amount “exceeded the money we could afford to pay Fairground Furniture for this one event.”
The second half of the letter included a notice of termination, stating that the board moved to discontinue any and all contracts with Fairgrounds Furniture to expire Dec. 31, allowing the business an additional 15 days to move out.
“Because of our appreciation for the long-standing relationship between Fairground Furniture and the Board of Directors, the 90 days will be extended,” the letter ends.
Allegedly, a clause in the lease states that either party can submit in writing a letter of termination of the contract with 90 days’ notice.
“It may be legal but I don’t think it’s very moral,” Mark said. “Ninety days is ruinous. I couldn’t even run a clearance sale to attempt to liquidate this merchandise in that amount of time. Ninety days to be out — it can’t be done.”
The Greene County Fairgrounds released a statement Aug. 29 pertaining to the matter.
“The Fair Board has worked with Fairground Furniture in retaining them as tenants. However, the demands of Fairground Furniture were excessive and the Board has voted to terminate the current contract per the contract terms. Any other inquiry should be directed to the Fair Board Attorney, Jeffrey Ferguson,” the statement reads.
Mark said he hopes there is a possibility to iron the matter out but will bring it to court if there is no other choice. The business has hired Xenia attorney Phillip Hoover.
“Our business is worth fighting for, and we plan to vigorously defend it for what amounts to a six day need of our building over two years,” Melissa ended her letter.
If they have to look for new commercial real estate to move the business, they will, but as Mark put it: “It’s not Main Street Furniture.”