Before Alex Stokeld opened GB Fish & Chips at 1311 South Broadway a dozen years ago, he says he approached the neighboring Winchell’s Donut Shop and asked about using the parking lot between their spots, which belongs to Winchell’s.
“I started renting the parking lot, which made sense,” says Stokeld, who says the original arrangement called for paying Sami Selhi, who leases the property for Winchell's, $300 a month to share the lot. Selhi doesn't remember it quite the same way; he says that he allowed Stokeld to use the lot for free for seven months, then started collecting $300 a month.
“They’re very busy, which is good for them," Selhi says, "but...our own customers don’t have anywhere to park. I did that math, that was seven cents per car.” He also notes that Stokeld didn't have to do any of the maintenance of the lot, which became littered with “cups, plates, trash, cigarettes. We have to clean it every morning,” he complains.
In spring 2013, Selhi told Stokeld he was increasing the rent. “He wanted $1,500 a month all of a sudden," Stokeld recalls. "We couldn’t afford that, obviously.”
After Stokeld refused to meet Selhi's rent request, he directed GB customers not to use the lot, and Selhi left on a long vacation. Upon his return, Stokeld asked to renegotiate, and the two agreed to a rent increase to $500 per month. That settled, Stokeld’s customers once again gained access to the parking lot.
Stokeld declined. "I'm not paying $2,000 a month for parking," he says.
Selhi says he didn't ask for nearly that much. “All I want is ten cents per car, that’s about $900 a month,” he explains. “They said no way, so I said either pay that much or don’t park here.”
Stokeld decided that he would no longer pay any amount of rent for the parking lot as of May 1. Throughout April, he and his staff warned customers that the lot would soon be off limits; they also put signs on the doors of GB's noting the change.
Selhi says that he warned Stokeld that he would tow any drivers who used the lot after the deal was up. “They took for granted I wouldn’t enforce the parking and have them towed,” Selhi says. “I gave them two months to find new parking.”
On the day the parking ban took effect, neighboring business owners texted Stokeld to give him a heads-up that tow trucks were arriving. “There were three tow trucks lined up by eleven that morning, waiting for customers,” says Stokeld. “I paid for about ten tows that week. [Selhi] was just laughing at me. ... I guessed this was his way of getting that rent I won’t pay. ... It was pretty horrible.”
But Stokeld came up with a solution: a parking lot two doors down the alley. “Twenty spots," he says. "We can use those after 5 p.m. and anytime on the weekends.”
Which is fine with Selhi: "I won't let them park until they pay the right price," he says.
What's not so fine with Selhi are the big banners that appeared on the side of GB's Fish & Chips in May, alerting drivers that they could no longer park in the lot. “They’ve been parking here twelve years!” Stokeld says of his patrons. “Of course, they’re not prepared to suddenly not be allowed to park there, especially without signs.” Selhi had promised to put up his own signs in the lot, Stokeld adds, but never did; that's why he had the banners made in a rush.
The customers got the message, and some took to social media to complain about the new parking policy.
“They hung banners, blaming us,” says Selhi, who is threatening to restore the fence that once divided the parking lot...and the now-feuding businesses. “We’ve had sixty bad reviews. It’s offensive.”