Aspen Copies/Courtesy Photo
BY MAIRE O’NEILL
An article published in the business section of Bloomberg Sept. 18 entitled “The Hardest Thing in the World:’ A Copy Shop Struggles To Make Rent – A tenant in New Mexico tries to work out a deal with her landlord has caused some issues for a landlord and tenant in Los Alamos.
The tenants in the article written by Nick Leiber turned out to be Dawn and James Cline, owners of Aspen Copies at 1907 Central Avenue, and although not named by Leiber, the landlord is Shannon C’de Baca of Shannon Corporation.
Leiber’s article discusses an interview with Dawn Cline on the plight of Aspen Copies during the COVID-19 pandemic and claimed that C’De Baca “hasn’t cut her any slack”, increasing her rent in May. The article goes on to discuss Cline’s medical condition and even discussed the “1940s-era bathroom” at the store.
Leiber wrote that when Cline approached her landlord about giving her a break because of the pandemic, “it didn’t fly”. He claims C’De Baca instead “offered loans at 5 percent interest. He said Cline didn’t feel comfortable taking on debt from her landlord and that she had said.” It’s like loaning money to family; something is going to go wrong”.
C’De Baca, meanwhile was shocked when she read the Bloomberg story, especially as Leiber had never spoken to her. She told the Los Alamos Reporter she took over the business from her father 5.5 years ago.
“I froze rents on many larger spaces. The going rate is 3-5 percent increase per year. Taxes on commercial property have gone up as much 11 percent on some of my properties and insurance is a solid 10 percent or higher increase a year. There are always maintenance costs and I have not passed that on to my tenants,” she said.
C’De Baca said Aspen Copies pays a simple 2 percent annual increase but that she has waived that increase for four years. She noted that she has had to pay “a painful amount” to resurface the parking lot, replace the concrete sidewalk out front, replace the concrete sidewalk out front and upgrade the heating and air conditioning but has still waived the annual increase for four years.
“Rent in Los Alamos can be high for downtown ground floor space. I can say that the lease for Aspen is on the lower level of the spectrum. I met with Dawn to negotiate her lease when it ended about a year ago and gave her every concession she asked for and more including a shorter term lease and a clause that allowed her not to worry should she become ill. We both agreed that the lease was in her favor and exceptionally fair to her,” C’deBaca said.
She said in April she called her tenants and offered to carry their missed rent as a zero percent loan.
“My exact words were, ‘pay what you can when you can. Don’t worry’. Most folks applied for and received paycheck protection or other CARES Act funding,” C’de Baca said. “Dawn has never spoken to me asking for rent forgiveness or those other concerns mentioned in the article.
She said she has always made small businesses a focus, renting to more small businesses than any other landlord, and that during COVID she has bent over backwards to help folks.
“I will continue to be a small business advocate and be as transparent as possible about the challenges of keeping my company in business so that small businesses will have a landlord who advocates for them. The challenges of that are not inconsequential,” she said. “I value what Aspen Copies provides to our community and will continue to support them. My hope is that the author of the article read something into Dawn’s interview that she did not intend. The comments about me not offering to help and the untrue report of my charging interest to carry rent had to be called out.”
C’de Baca said her offer for tenants to pay what they can and spread the missed rent over interest-free stands until the pandemic crisis is over.
“We’re all in this together,” she said.
Cline told the Los Alamos Reporter Tuesday that she has sent an email of apology to C’de Baca. She said she had done five other interviews with a MainStreet group and thought she was having another one. She said Leiber only used his first name and didn’t say he was from Bloomberg. Cline said she thought she was just having a discussion that might end up as part of an article and that she only found out an article had been published when the Los Alamos Reporter contacted her husband, James.
Cline said Leiber twisted a few things in the story, that she was busy when the call came and was experiencing issues with her throat due to smoke and pollen. She said she did not say C’de Baca would loan rent money at 5 percent and that Leiber “willy-nilly” took parts of their 30-minute conversation. She said she hadn’t spoken to C’de Baca since prior to the April rent increase and that when the offer was made for a zero percent loan on the rent, she had not wanted to take a loan as her goal was to pay the rent and not be in debt to the landlord.
Cline said she had been expecting to hear from Leiber before the article was published but never had, and that she did not have contact information for him.
“This is certainly not how I wanted it to read,” she said.
Cline expressed her appreciation to contractors and members of the community for continuing to support Aspen Copies. She noted that the number of accounts she bills to monthly have dropped 75 percent and that there is little to no business from Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos County and Los Alamos Public Schools. Even a seminar company in Seattle that has been a regular customer is affected by the pandemic, Cline said.
The Los Alamos Reported attempted to contact Mr. Leiber but was unable to find an email address of phone number for him.