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Mosby's store goes on the auction block

June 01, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

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Lenzlea Mosby

Lenzlea F. Mosby Jr., who launched a one-man crusade against alcohol and tobacco last year, will lose his Jonathan Street grocery store and several rental properties at a tax auction today.

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Mosby's Grocery Mart, a fixture on Jonathan Street for almost four decades, closed at the end of January.

"I wasn't even doing enough business to pay the utilities," Mosby said.

The store, along with several rental properties and a vacant lot, will be sold at a tax auction at 2 p.m. in front of the Washington County Courthouse.

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In March 1997, Mosby burned cartons of cigarettes outside his store and poured alcohol into the street to declare he would no longer sell the products. He said he had watched the products cause too much harm in his troubled neighborhood.

Mosby, 63, said Monday he has no regrets.

"I probably would have stayed in business if I had kept on selling them. But is was something I just could not do," he said.

About 60 well-wishers cheered Mosby on and pledged to support him when he gave up selling tobacco and alcohol. But he did not get enough customers to make up for the roughly 50 percent drop in sales.

"People shop where they want to shop. A lot of those people didn't live in the area and had no reason to come here," he said.

Mosby's supporters lamented his business problems but predicted he would find something else.

"It is sad," said the Rev. Dennis Whitmore, pastor of three Big Pool churches. "The community didn't really support him. In fact, some were even against him."

Whitmore, who presented Mosby with a $2,000 check from his congregation last year, said it was difficult for his worshipers to shop at the store, which is about 20 miles away from their homes.

But Whitmore praised Mosby's decision.

"I think doing the right thing will have its initial price," he said. "But the cost in the long run - the cost to his community, the cost to his neighborhood, the cost to himself - that's the cost he would have paid.

"I believe this one failure will open up many opportunities."

Although the loss of alcohol and tobacco sales hurt, Mosby acknowledged his business was in trouble before that. In January 1996, his store was robbed and he was stabbed.

"Before that, I was making it," he said.

The time he spent in the hospital ran up medical bills and disrupted his business. While the wounds eventually healed, the store never recovered.

Mosby said he also had trouble finding good tenants for his rental properties.

In addition to his store, apartments above it as well as rental properties at 33 W. North Ave., 115 W. Bethel St., 403 N. Jonathan St. and a vacant lot at 165-169 N. Jonathan St. will be sold at today's auction.

"A lot of people just didn't want to live in the area," he said.

It used to be much different, Mosby said. When he bought the store in 1960, the Virginia native said Jonathan Street was a vibrant community.

Competition became stiff in the 1970s as large supermarkets and 24-hour convenience stores opened, Mosby said.

"Then drugs came in the '80s. Then it really got bad," he said.

For now, Mosby said he is living off Social Security. But he said he hopes to find another opportunity soon.

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