Local gas station leaves community on empty

Local convenience store Tony’s II closed its doors for the last time Sunday night, and its departure may have costly effects on the Providence neighborhood.

With local gas prices teetering just below $3 a gallon, the South Side store on Lake Bradford Road and Stuckey Avenue boasted what could arguably be the city’s lowest gas prices, starting at $2.69 a gallon as of last week.

Gas and grocery sales had been booming for business owner Basem Shahin since he took over the business in 2005, yet he said he will walk away jobless and nearly broke.

“This is a horror story,” Shahin said. “I walked in with $500,000 and I walk out with nothing…He [the land owner] took almost every penny I earned from the last 10 to 12 years.”

Shahin came to Tallahassee from Lakeland in 2005 looking to invest money in a new venture. He said he heard Tony’s II property owner Shahbez Ahmed was looking to sell the business, so he jumped at the offer. Shahin bought the business from Ahmed for $265,000 in July 2005. That money bought him loyal customers and business with an excellent reputation, but he didn’t actually own the property itself.

Shahin signed the contract without legal counsel, a mistake he said he now regrets. The 15-year contract stipulated that at any time either party could exit the agreement, provided that a 60-day notice is given.

Shahin said he received this notice, without explanation, Sept. 14 after asking the property owner to make costly repairs to the building.

“He just said he wanted it [the property] back,” Shahin said, referring to Ahmed. “That’s it.”

The repairs in question stemmed from inadequate support of the store’s back walls, causing excessive flooding during rains. Shahin said his insurance company cancelled his coverage when it saw the electrical breaker box was located on the same wall.

The Palestine-born owner said he poured thousands of dollars into other repairs for the business – repairs he believes were Ahmed’s responsibility. Shahin said he did not mind paying for them because he thought he would make the money back over the course of the contract.

“It was a contract they both agreed to,” said Ahmed’s lawyer, Joseph Hughes.

Hughes said he did not know why Ahmed sent the notice.

He said Shahin has not paid the last month’s rent or for the last two fuel deliveries, which Shahin admits.

Shahin said he did not pay the rent due Sept. 15 because he received the notice the day before and did not plan to stay past Oct. 1.

As far as the fuel costs, Shahin said Ahmed owes him money for breaking the lease agreement before the 15 year-period, so he expects Ahmed to cover the last fuel costs.

Shahin has hired an attorney and said he hopes the two can negotiate a settlement without resorting to litigation.

“As soon as I shut down Sunday, I’ll start looking for a job to pay my mortgage,” he said.

After years as an entrepreneur, Shahin will no longer be the boss. He said he plans to go back to corporate sales.

Shahin said he believes he had a good relationship with members of the community because he treated everyone with respect. He said there has not been one incidence of violence at his business since he bought it, quite rare for a convenience store.

“At first I was scared, but I had to make them like me,” Shahin said of his patrons. “Now when I’m here, I feel like I’m at home.”

He predicts that in his store’s absence, the community will take an economic blow. With higher-priced convenience stores Tony’s I and Pat’s Market further down the road, the pedestrian traffic that Shahin attracted will be hit two-fold.

“It’s gonna be hard for these people,” Shahin said. “Without competition, they [Tony’s I] have the whole neighborhood in their hands.”

Yolanda Speed, who lives a few blocks from the station, said she did not know the store would be closing.

“On Fridays it used to be so packed, you could hardly get in here,” Speed said. “It’ll be missed because they had the cheapest everything.”