Judge rules in W.Va. coffee house case

November 29, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- The gaudy assembly of railroad ties, construction equipment, tour buses and other equipment meant to barricade Trula B's Coffee House from doing business in Berkeley Plaza last fall only helped attract more customers to the restaurant.

"It certainly brought people into the restaurant outraged that someone would do (this)," said Trula Christian, a partner in the business that opened in May 2007.

Christian said one man vowed to come every day that the blockade was in place around what formerly was a BB&T Bank branch in the shopping plaza off Williamsport Pike (U.S. 11).

"And he just about did," Christian said.

The makeshift string of obstacles lined up around the business on the morning of Sept. 18, 2007, led to the filing of a complaint in Berkeley County Circuit Court. The owners of Berkeley Plaza were named in the complaint filed by an attorney for Tucker Properties LLC, which purchased the building from BB&T in November 2006.


"I think it would have been nice if we could have had a neighborly relationship, but that was not meant to be," Christian said.

Christian said business has slowed because of the economic downturn, and noted the restaurant never did recover the level of "drive-up" patronage it had before the blockade. The restaurant has made use of the bank building's drive-through feature, and also uses the vault for a pantry.

"I think it's like every other discretionary business at this time," Christian said. "We always would like to have more business."

Now, more than a year after the dispute spilled into court, the restaurant's right to do business in the plaza appears to be secure, according to an order signed Oct. 16 by 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge Christopher C. Wilkes.

The lawsuit's focus centered on the wording of property deeds that appeared to give Berkeley Plaza owners the first right to purchase the bank property from BB&T. The property's use as a restaurant also was questioned, as well as access to Berkeley Plaza's parking lot, which all but surrounds the business.

Wilkes essentially ruled the "right of first refusal" referenced in the bank property deed was not valid, and BB&T's sale to Tucker Properties did not violate any restrictions on the sale.

Michael L. Scales, legal counsel for Berkeley Plaza LLC, did not return messages left with office staff or an e-mail request for comment last week.

Brent Jackson, owner of Berkeley Plaza LLC, also did not return a message requesting comment that was left on his office voice mail.

Tucker properties owner James Tucker declined to comment, referring questions to his attorney, who could not be reached for an interview in Charleston, W.Va., despite repeated attempts.

"I'm happy that it turned out the way that it did," Christian said. "We feel at least a little bit vindicated."

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