Afri-Ware, the bookstore and cultural event center that had been located in the 400 block of South Ridgeland Avenue in Oak Park since May 2011, moved to Maywood on Saturday, the latest step in an ongoing dispute between the owner and her landlord.
Nzingha Nommo acknowledged on Friday that she may be faced with a lawsuit for breaking the lease that does not end until April 2014. According to the lease, rent must be paid monthly in advance until termination of the lease.
But according to Nommo, her landlord, Michael Leavy, was not living up to his lease obligations. Though she said Leavy did threaten to sue her, “I will have to cross that bridge when I get to it.”
She likes the potential in the new space at 1701 S. First Avenue and said she thinks it will allow the store to get its footing back once they open in at least two weeks. But the move will not be a smooth transition, she said, and she regrets the process that led to her decision.
Nommo sent a letter to Leavy earlier this month saying he was not responsive to her requests to address problems with the air conditioning and heat in the past 15 months. In November, a thermal computer chip was put in the store for 24 hours on two occasions after Nommo complained to the village’s Building and Property Standards Department, said Jim Duffy, a commercial property inspector with the department.
Both times, the temperature got as low as 62 degrees. The landlord is required to supply temperatures of at least 67 degrees under village code. Duffy said Leavy, who did not wish to comment for this article, was in the process of getting a loan through the village during that time in order to fix the furnace.
“I just didn’t see the point of ticketing the guy when he’s doing whatever he can,” Duffy said.
According to the lease, Nommo is responsible for making repairs and renewals at her own expense, with a fire being the only exception. The lease says Nommo can also pay Leavy to make repairs in addition to the rent payments.
But in a letter to Wednesday Journal, Leavy said he received no requests for repairs. The lease requires him to supply a reasonable amount of heat from October to May, but does not warrant that the service will be free from interruptions caused by repair of the building’s heating apparatus.
The following summer, Duffy said Nommo called again with concerns about the air conditioning. But since the village is not required to guarantee air, his department couldn’t do anything.
A report from an outside company Nommo brought in said the unit didn’t work because it was not installed properly. According to the lease, Nommo was responsible for the cost of all service and maintenance related to it if she wanted to use it.
Nommo said she has sent an email out to her customers and knows it’s a lot to ask them to follow her to the new location. She said she regrets the situation had to come to this, and hopes Leavy will upgrade the space for a future tenant.
“It is a nice location,” she said, “but it has to be habitable.”