PHENIX CITY, AL (WTVM) - A popular thrift mall in Phenix City shut down on Saturday morning without warning vendors of the big change.
Over 100 people are now left without jobs as tens of thousands of dollars worth of items and merchandise are locked up inside the A&K thrift mall. Concerned vendors crowded the mall on Highway 280 next to K-Mart to speak with News Leader 9's Sara Lim about this shocking situation.
"We started getting phone calls from the vendors and other friends who were coming to the shop Saturday morning. They said the store closed down," Sheri Jenkins, one of the vendors said.
Jenkins had a booth set up with furniture, electronics, clothing, and she said she was with the mall for nearly three years ever since it opened.
"I was so shocked that this happened because we all knew the couple," Jenkins said. "Kevin and Angel Smith were outstanding in the community, they were a loving family, they had good relationship with everyone and they homeschooled their kids. But my husband did notice something odd this past Thursday. He said the couple was not as energetic as they usually were. They were acting a little awkward around him and a little stand offish. Maybe that was a sign of trouble coming."
Jenkins and hundreds of other vendors claim the owners took the cash register, computers and other items the owners sold out of the store. Many vendors told News Leader 9 they believe the owners cleared the store late Friday evening and locked it up so the vendors couldn't come to work that following Saturday morning.
"We tried reaching out to them," Jenkins said. "We called their personal cell phones, home phone, but they were all disconnected. The couple's Facebook pages are down, and they seemed to have moved out of their home, because they were not there when we went."
Jenkins said the mall thrived and attracted hundreds of customers every day. Jenkins said there are a lot of assumptions and rumors on why the couple might have ran away.
"I've heard people say the couple moved to another state or they are trying to sell our stuff to make money and other things," Jenkins said. "But A&K Thrift Mall is in a perfect location. It has plenty of parking, high traffic and we do have good and bad months, but with the way economy is nowadays, we actually had many customers shop at our store to buy quality items for less. There's no reason for the store to not have thrived, so I'm confused as to why the couple ran off like this."
Jenkins said the vendors filed a police report at Phenix City police station. However, Brad Dodds with Day and Dodds law firm in Columbus said, the best option for the vendors to try to retrieve their items would be to go to court.
"This is a civil matter, so the law enforcement might not be able to provide as much help as the vendors would like," Dodds said. "The issue with the police is that they have to determine there has been a crime committed. But even though the couple closed down the place and made it difficult for the people to go in, there's no proof that the owners have actually converted them. If the owners have not removed the items from the premises to try to sell them or dispose of them, this is a civil matter."
Dodds said the best option to do is for the vendors to talk to the building owner or the landlord to get access to the store to remove their items from the property.
"This is the landlord's inventory, and the store does not belong to the people who shut it down," Dodds explained. "The vendors could retrieve their items by working things out with the landlord. The vendors also have the option of going to court and filing a lawsuit against the landlord for possession of their own property. They could also try to file a suit against the couple, but often times, this is difficult to do when the defendants are not present to receive notice. It makes it difficult to give them the required notice."
Jenkins said the vendors do not want to fight or file suits against anyone right now. The vendors just want to get their items back so they can continue to work.
"I think the vendors here just want answers," Jenkins said. "I think they are hoping to see what actually happened here. We really don't want to go through a lawsuit. We don't want to hurt anyone. We understand that you are in trouble, I'm sure there are reasons as to why the owners had to do this. We don't want to hold any grudges, but just give us our stuff back and we will part ways. We can all be okay."