Chows hand big bill to stallholders
Disgruntled stallholders at Wellington's Capital Markets claim they are being squeezed for cash after trying to abandon the site, owned by brothel-business entrepreneurs the Chow brothers.
When the boutique markets opened in the previously vacant Willis St site at the end of last year, 42 indoor sites were advertised for lease.
When Fairfax Media visited this week, there were just eight stalls operating.
But stallholders who tried to give notice on their leases have been hit with bills amounting to thousands of dollars.
The Chows' representatives said the stallholders were offered good incentives because the markets were still being developed, and those who did not keep faith would have to pay.
The Chow Group has just gained a 10-year resource consent from the Wellington City Council to open new outdoor food markets at the site, which are planned to be ready by May.
However, the project has been plagued by difficulties from the outset - including the demolition of a historic restaurant on the land, and questions from the Wellington City Council over a lack of notification of plans to open a food market.
One stallholder, who did not want to be named for fear of legal action, said she had been led to believe a rolling monthly lease variation had replaced her original six-month fixed-term lease.
She gave a month's notice, and was horrified to be handed a bill amounting to thousands.
"It will be very, very difficult to pay. I'm just starting out and that's a huge amount for someone starting out.
"People are in a market for a reason - so they don't have the huge overhead costs and associated risks with going into a shop. For them to do that, if I had to pay that money, that would be horrible."
Chow Group corporate legal counsel Bradley Watson said all tenants asked to pay would have to do so. Their contract variations were "temporary" and did not supersede their initial tenancy agreement.
It was disappointing stallholders had withdrawn after receiving incentives including rent holidays and reductions, he said.
"This was a huge sacrifice that we made in our efforts to give support to these stallholders whilst the development proceeded."
When the stallholders first signed up, they were informed the food markets were still being developed, he said.
Those who stayed behind would reap the benefits once it was complete.
"Although disappointed with those stallholders who have chosen to break their licences and complain about us, we have never closed the door to any of them.
"What this means is that, if they want to reconsider, we would be happy to have them back."
However, another stallholder who was one of the first to leave called her time at the markets "a nightmare".
"I think I got out just in time."
Ken McFadyen also walked, saying his business never saw the foot traffic expected and he was dissatisifed with Capital Markets' management.
Lorraine Allison said she had expected the markets would flourish, but pulled out after three months when business didn't pick up.