The franchise owners of Cold Stone Creamery in downtown Pleasanton have closed their store and moving out of Tully's Plaza after Craig Semmelmeyer, the owner of Main Street Properties, refused to renew their lease.
The issue, according to Cold Stone franchisee Mike Salas, was kids at the plaza, although the landlord said otherwise.
At old Stone, Mike Salas and his wife Mindy were due to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their store, but Salas got the word in a voice message that they had 45 days to move out, a call that came just as he was recovering from surgery in January.
Salas said he'd been in negotiations with Semmelmeyer for nearly a year for a lease renewal.
"We had a big meeting with Cold Stone (executives)," Salas said. "He sat there and told Cold Stone that I was bringing kids into the plaza that shouldn't be there. An ice cream store -- what better place for kids to hang out?"
Semmelmeyer said kids were not the deciding issue in not renewing the Salases' lease.
"They were told that they needed to increase their sales. They didn't do that and their sales continued to decline," Semmelmeyer said. "Their sales were less than half of what they used to be. People are voting with their feet."
He said his concern is how downtown Pleasanton competes with Livermore and Dublin.
"If we don't have the best tenants, things will wither," Semmelmeyer said, adding that the Salases "have an obligation to do more than pay rent, they have an obligation to be popular within the community."
He also said Tully's Plaza is one of the highest-earning areas in downtown, comparable with the earnings per square foot at Stoneridge Shopping Center, and said one under-performing tenant can drag the others down.
Salas said his problem with Semmelmeyer can be traced back to a couple of years ago, when middle-schoolers were showing up, and that police were there Friday nights. That's been over for some time, Salas said, and he made a personal commitment to Semmelmeyer to clean the area at the end of each business day.
"They had an ongoing issue with really not having an adult presence in the store. I will acknowledge they did a really good job of improving. They made a really good effort of having more of an adult presence," Semmelmeyer said. "They did a nice job of putting effort into that situation and resolving that challenge."
Police were unable to confirm any particular incidents at Tully's Plaza around that time, although Laura Olson, executive director of the Pleasanton Downtown Association, said the plaza did have occasional problems, such as during First Wednesday Street Parties.
Olson also agreed there's a perception that kids are unwelcome downtown, something the PDA is addressing in its five-year hospitality plan, now in its second year.
"We want downtown to be accessible to all age groups and have all age groups embrace downtown. We want there to be activities, shopping opportunities and gathering places for all ages," she said.
Semmelmeyer said he's not uncomfortable with kids but doesn't want "disruptive people" at the plaza, "whether it's kids, adults or whatever."
"We think the plaza is for families. Pleasanton is a family community," he said. "Whatever it is that makes people uncomfortable, we're probably going to want to control that environment."
During lease negotiations, Salas said, "He made me believe that he was doing this in good faith, that we were going to keep the store."
Salas said he had an opportunity to move to a new location on Angela Street last April, but waited because he believed Semmelmeyer.
"He didn't want to move," Semmelmeyer said. "At that meeting in April, a lease was not being offered to him. He said he didn't want to move. That's just a story."
Semmelmeyer also said the Salases had made up their tale about being forced to move out at the last minute.
"It's very painful for someone that is closing their store. It's really hurtful and painful for them," Semmelmeyer said. "They don't deserve to be thrown under the bus, (but) they will tell you a story that's untrue to save face."
Semmelmeyer said the "real story" is the company that's moving in.
His new tenant is another ice cream store, Tara's Organic Ice Cream, based out of Berkeley. Tara's sells high-end ice cream, with flavors that include butternut squash, lavender and caramelized pear, along with the more traditional chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. A medium, two-scoop cone sells for about $6.
"If you look at Tara's, the reviews they get -- we're hoping to have people coming from Livermore," Semmelmeyer said.
Salas said he thought Semmelmeyer's plan was to keep kids away by pricing them out of the market.
Olson said that may not be the case.
"One thing I've noticed is youths today are sophisticated," she said. "They're buying their $5 lattes just as we are. We'll just have to wait and see if they like it."
On Monday, Salas took turns stripping the fixtures and tiles from the walls, sitting down to rest the knee he had replaced, getting condolences from passersby. Salas said he also suffered a stroke in January after getting the news but doesn't know if the two are connected.
The fixtures are being sold and Salas said without funding, he's out of the ice cream business forever.
"This was my first business to open, my wife and I. This was my business," he said. "He's destroyed me."
Semmelmeyer said Salas made a point of moving all the equipment out through the front door as a final jab.
"The reason to do it is to try to get one last nasty slap at their landlord," he said.
Salas said the loss of his business is also a loss to the community.
"We do a lot of fundraising. We make the schools a lot of money," he said, adding he'd just begun working with another organization putting on cancer walks.
"Now that's gone," Salas said.
Pamela Ott, Pleasanton's director of economic development, said she was aware that Cold Stone was leaving but described the issue as a landlord-tenant dispute.
"Kids are consumers. In our downtown, we want a variety of shops, restaurants and services that met the needs of all Pleasanton residents," she said. "This is a decision from the property owner about what tenant he wants in that space. The city's just happy to see that ice cream is still going to be part of the offerings at the Tully's Plaza."
Ott said no business license has been issued to Tara's, but added that's not unusual and that many business wait until they're about to open before getting licensed.