Parking-lot dispute stalls two Wallingford businesses

(The name of store, Tweedy & Popp Ace Hardware, has been corrected.)For a while this spring, talk around the Wallingford business district swirled around a police incident in a commercial parking lot in the 1900 block of North 45th Street. The incident didn't involve shoplifters or car prowls, but a dispute between two local businesses over parking spaces.According to Tweedy & Popp Ace Hardware employees, the owner of the neighboring Rusty Pelican Café repeatedly moved his car to block an Ace Hardware truck making an unscheduled delivery earlier this year, resulting in police being called. Tom Paik, owner of the hardware store, said the tension escalated about a month ago, when the restaurant owner, Peter Limberopoulos, started to park his car next to the store's back-door ramp, which is angled toward the parking spot. Paik alleges that, even with the lot completely open, Limberopoulos would park his car so close to the ramp that it impeded the store's early morning deliveries.Limberopoulos would then move his car after the delivery truck left, said Jeffrey Fawcett, acting general manager for the hardware store. He said store employees measured the distance between the ramp and the car before and after deliveries to confirm this.Tweedy & Popp employees have tried to settle the dispute with Limberopoulos on several occasions, they say, but he refused. The store also moved its weekly deliveries a half-hour earlier to 6:30 a.m. to accommodate the restaurant's morning crowd, Paik said. The two businesses' landlord, Costas Antonopoulos, who had the restaurant storefront before Limberopoulos, said he didn't know of the dispute until three months ago, but he hopes to have "at least one problem solved."Antonopoulos recently straightened the store's ramp entry, which widens the access and eliminates the possibility of anyone parking in the adjacent space blocking the ramp, he said: "I guarantee it will work for now.""I want to make it smooth for both of them," the landlord added. "I want [everyone] to have good relations.""The landlord took care of it," Limberopoulos said of the parking-lot dispute. He declined to comment further on the situation, explaining, "I don't solve issues through the media. There are other avenues we can use to solve our problems."FIGHTING FOR SPACES"They seemed to be nice people," said Mike Mikkelson, the former general manager of Tweedy & Popp's Wallingford store and current general manager of the Richmond store, said of Limberopoulos and his employees. He related how Limberopoulos would borrow ladders from the hardware store when he first moved into the restaurant's storefront.Paik said he helped Limberopoulos with his restaurant's Wi-Fi.However, things started to turn sour a few years ago, he said, when the restaurant's employees started parking in Tweedy & Popp's two spots when the Rusty Pelican's 18 spots were filled. Mikkelson said he left "nice notes" on the employees' vehicles, which developed into the neighbors' first "tiff."On several occasions, Antonopoulos said, Limberopoulos notified him of hardware-store delivery trucks blocking the restaurant's five parking spaces near the former dry cleaner business at the back corner of the lot during lunch hours.A legal representative for Limberopoulos sent a letter to Paik in March 2007 requesting that the hardware store "cease and desist committing trespass on my [client's] property."But Paik contends the delivery trucks were most likely courier or mail trucks, since Ace Hardware is scheduled to make only one early morning delivery per week. Paik also argues that the eatery takes food deliveries during business hours, often blocking the hardware store's parking spaces, but he hasn't complained.The hardware store has since requested its delivery-truck drivers to park on the streets adjacent to the parking lot, said store manager Fawcett."It's gone beyond the little nastiness that started years ago," Mikkelson said. "It would be humorous if it were on a TV show. It's become absurd - so unfriendly, so un-neighborly."TOWING, THE LINEThe Wallingford Chamber of Commerce, of which both businesses are members, "sometimes handles" such disputes, said chamber president Kara Ceriello, but she hadn't been approached by either business owner. "I'd love for everyone to get along," she said.Janet Stillman, executive director for the Wallingford Neighborhood Office, couldn't recall a similar incident in the past. But she related that, years ago, customers of Murphy's Pub, on the other side of the Rusty Pelican, parked in the lot and were towed, not knowing that their parking spots belonged to the restaurant.A longtime Murphy's employee, who asked to remain anonymous, confirmed that the Rusty Pelican would tow cars of customers not frequenting the eatery. But the employee said the pub's three reserved spots don't present a problem, even during delivery times, which happen at various times throughout the week: "It doesn't happen very often. We just ask [the drivers] to move" their vehicles during those times.Antonopoulos plans to eventually raze the buildings, temporarily displacing the businesses, to erect a three-story building. The businesses would return to their street-level storefronts, while offices and apartments would occupy the second and third floors, respectively.Editor Vera M. Chan-Pool can be reached at 461-1346 or[[In-content Ad]]