Wheat Ridge owner scrambling to relocate business after being forced out
By Austin Briggs
POSTED: 02/18/2014 01:43:13 PM MST | UPDATED: 2 DAYS AGO
A popular Wheat Ridge businesses owner who made her living grooming and bathing pets said she's facing financial ruin and scrambling to find a new location after the building's new owner wouldn't renew her lease.
The situation has created a rift between Helen Turner, 56, who says she was assured she could stay in the property, and former Wheat Ridge city councilman and Pietra's Pizza owner Joe DeMott, who said he purchased the property in September 2013 fully intending to convert it into a restaurant and bar.
"I'm combining four spaces to create a restaurant," DeMott said. "That was the plan all along, and I had initially told her and the business next to hers that it would be about springtime when they had to move, then things happened faster than I thought."
Turner said she didn't think anything out of the ordinary was happening when she received a letter in September informing her of new ownership of the building at 7250 W. 38th Ave. She had been on a month-to-month lease since 2010 and said subsequent conversations with DeMott led her to believe she could stay in the property.
On Jan. 10, she received notice that she had to be out by Feb. 15.
"I feel my whole life is uprooted. I feel like I've been stolen from after having invested money and seven years of my life in this business," Turner said. "All that's gone."
Sitting amid boxes and clutter at Shampooch last week, Turner's eyes welled with tears as she talked about losing her only form of livelihood and having nowhere to relocate or the funds to do so.
Turner said she started Shampooch in 2007, right at the beginning of the financial crisis. The property had housed a string of failed pet-cleaning businesses before she took over, and Turner said losing her business is devastating.
"I was working two jobs and raising three kids by myself when I started this business," Turner said. "Owning this was a lifelong dream, and it was a leap of faith to take out unsecured loans and strike out on my own."
Since then, she has collected a loyal following, with many pet owners traveling from outside the area to get their animals washed, scrubbed and trimmed. Turner said working with animals has been a lifelong passion, and she also organized pet wellness information sessions and performed other community outreach projects to help animals in need.
She said after the initial shock wore off, she began pounding the pavement looking for a place with the proper plumbing and infrastructure to support a pet-cleaning business. In the meantime, she began losing customers and income, making it more difficult to relocate.
"I went to the city for help and they just kind of kicked me around from one department to the other," Turner said. "They say how important small businesses are for the community, but it seems like they couldn't care less."
DeMott said the decision to renovate the property to hold a restaurant was strictly business, and he refutes the claim Turner made in a letter that was circulated around town that other businesses in the property received help to relocate.
Three of the six businesses on the property have left. The entire building is being renovated, DeMott said, and he and a new restaurant tenant will invest more than $300,000 in projects such as tearing out the floor, raising the ceiling, installing a rooftop deck and adding new sign-age to the front of the building.
"I tried to give everyone enough lead time so they could decide what they needed to do," DeMott said. "I'm running my business to fit what the market will bear."
The top candidate to move into the spot is Clancy's Irish Pub, which has to relocate from its current spot on West 38th Avenue and Kipling Street to make way for a $12 million tax increment financing project that will see a Sprouts Market and 64-unit senior living complex built on what is now a blighted shopping center.
Drawing the ire of Turner is the fact any future restaurant or bar would be located across the street from Wheat Ridge 5-8 Middle School, something DeMott said is permissible under state statute.
In the meantime, Turner started a fundraising campaign and began asking for help in the community. She moved all the property out of the business Feb. 15. She is losing hope she can find another establishment to set up shop.
A longtime customer, Frank McBride, said Turner was able to diagnose his dog with arthritis before his veterinarian did.
"She has an amazing talent when it comes to working with animals," McBride said. "She's local and people really admire her. It's a shame she may not be working in the community any longer."
Austin Briggs: 303-954-1729, firstname.lastname@example.org
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