By Polly Keary, Editor
She says he raised the rent too high. He said she won’t comply with the terms of the lease.
And that’s just the beginning of the points of contention between Marie Maass, owner of the Hitching Post Cafe, and Canh Pham, owner of the building in which the cafe operates.
The Hitching Post Cafe has been a restaurant on Main Street for more than 40 years. The building itself is more than 100 years old, and once was a bank.
But it might become another Main Street empty storefront if Maass and Pham can’t come to terms.
In a story two weeks ago, for which Pham couldn’t be reached, Maass explained that she was closing her doors because Pham raised the rent beyond what she could afford to pay.
She also cited issues less possible for the Monroe Monitor to substantiate, such as repairs she said hadn’t been made.
Pham responded in a letter Tuesday, saying that he’d been out of town attending to a family member’s health crisis and had been unable to respond immediately.
Pham said that there have been issues since the beginning of the lease arrangement in 2011, to do with compliance with the terms of the lease.
But, he said, he’s still willing to rent to Maass, just at a higher rate.
“To be fair, I asked both parties to research the current market rate and present it to each other,” he wrote. “All my data was collected for downtown Monroe from the most-used site for all commercial properties: commercialmls.com or CBA.”
Maass’ previous lease had been for $1,200 a month. Pham said the market research suggested $1,750 was reasonable. Maass surveyed her neighbors, and said she thought that was above market rate based on what her neighbors pay.
It may be true that many renters downtown pay less, but that is likely due to old, long-standing leases, said Pham.
Maass did offer to pay $1,500, he acknowledged.
“I strongly believe that the $250-a-month rent difference is not the reason the business is being closed,” he stated.
Still, he said, he’s willing to accept $1,500, provided he can get a one-year lease, some back payments he said are owed him, and some paperwork he said was never completed from the first lease.
He is willing to do that, he said, because the Chamber of Commerce reached out to him to ask him to help Monroe avoid the loss of a long-term restaurant and another Main Street business.
“My wish is for Monroe to thrive, as I have much invested in this city,” he said.
Pham also owns the Lewis Street building that most recently contained Monroe Steak and Spirits. It is currently vacant.
The Hitching Post is slated to close Feb. 23. The murals that cover nearly every inch of wall space, for which the restaurant is well-known, could be painted over, as Maass, who is very angry, said she is reluctant to let them pass back into the hands of the landlord.
The building is valued at about $340,000. Property taxes are about $5,200 per year. The taxes are currently six months in arrears, according to the Snohomish County Assessor’s Office.
If the restaurant closes, it will lose some grandfathered status that made it exempt from certain code improvements. That will mean that before it could reopen as a restaurant, some upgrades will be required, and that could make finding another tenant a bit more challenging.