LINCOLN PARK — Even though customers have embraced Big City Bikes, the bike repair and maintenance shop might be forced to close after only six months of business, according to its owner.
Saurabh Patel, who owns the bike shop on the ground level of a condo building at 2425 N. Ashland Ave., is tangled in a lawsuit filed by his upstairs neighbors over Patel's decision to remove the shop's awnings — a dispute that might cost him the business he loves.
"We're about to shut down," said Patel, who has spent $7,000 in legal fees so far.
"If we're going to fail, I'd like to fail on our own. If it wasn't for this [lawsuit], we would be thriving. We can't succeed buried in legal debt," he added.
In November, the Wrightwood Park Terraces Condominium Association filed a lawsuit against Patel, arguing that the removal of the awnings "modified the aesthetic quality of the Association's premises," making the building look "uneven and incongruous," according to court documents.
In the suit, the condo association said Patel failed to "obtain written approval" to remove the awnings, which it claims violates the terms of the agreement between the commercial tenant and condo owners.
Under the agreement, "alterations shall not be made without written consent" except for "signage installed by the owner or the commercial condominium property," the suit states. Patel owns the retail space.
"This provision could not be any clearer that you, not the residential condo, have the authority to remove and replace the awnings and place whatever signage you would like on the awnings," Patel's attorney, Robert M. Prince, said in a letter.
Still, Patel sent an email request to the condo association to remove the awnings before opening the shop in summer 2015. The association denied the request, which is when Patel had his lawyer reach out to the association to assert his rights.
Patel said the awnings were never allowed by the city, and therefore were illegal. A staffer with Ald. Scott Waguespack's 32nd Ward office confirmed in an email that permits were never issued for the awnings in question. Patel also alleged the awnings were on the verge of collapsing, creating a safety hazard, which condo owners disputed.
The president of the condo association declined to comment on the allegations or the lawsuit except to say that Patel was "creating drama."
The disagreement came to a head the day Patel removed the awnings, shortly after opening his shop. A condo owner came downstairs and started berating Patel with insults.
"You're trying to make our buildings look like s--- so we can't even sell our places ... Why? Why?" she shouted, as seen in a video taken by Patel. Police officers showed up to the scene and asked the woman to calm down, urging both sides to work out the fight in court.
Patel said the condo owners have been "harassing" him and his employees by barging into the shop and yelling. It's gotten so bad that he keeps his door locked at all times and one of his mechanics quit because he couldn't handle the tense relationship, he said.
Though the legal fight might end up costing him his business, Patel said he also can't afford to put the awnings back up. Patel currently uses decals on his windows to advertise his business and attract customers, and the awnings would cover them. The condo association previously told Patel it would not allow lettering on the awnings.
Saurabh Patel, owner of Big City Bikes, said opening the shop was a "dream." [DNAinfo/Mina Bloom]
Patel works for a property management company that bought the Big City Bikes space in 2014 with plans to turn it into a medical office. But he and his partners ended up buying the space from the company and opening a bike shop instead. Once the legal troubles started, his partners left the business.
An avid cyclist, Patel called opening the shop a "dream," and said that he works as many as 100 hours a week at the shop and at the property management company.
"Someone comes in here with a flat tire and spends $20, that's not going to help me financially in any way. I do this because I want to interact with this community," he said, adding that the majority of his customers are DePaul students and young folks who rely on their bikes to get around. He now struggles to pay his three employees, two of whom are students.
If the case isn't resolved soon, Patel said he will forced to close his business, into which he has poured all of his life savings.
"I think it's because [the condo association] doesn't want a bike shop in here. They think a bike shop is not a good business for this address," he said.
He's also worried that if the judge rules in favor of the condo association, it might set a precedent for other businesses in similar situations.
"If they succeed, how far can that ruling take every other condo building that has a commercial tenant?" he said.
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