LYONS — Mike DeCola and his friends are fixtures at the Community Co-op at Newberry on William Street in downtown Lyons.
DeCola and his fellow retirees gather for breakfast, plenty of coffee served up with lots of laughs. Others come to buy art, jewelry and even fresh honey from the more than 100 vendors whose products are displayed at the co-op.
But the quaint spot’s time is coming to a close July 1. The building, named for its time as the variety store J.J. Newberry, has been sold to its previous owner, Sean Dobbins, who in turn is selling it to Glenn Wasman, owner of the popular Evolve for the Home store across William Street.
Wasman has turned Evolve for the Home into an all-things-Christmas operation that has become a major draw for downtown Lyons, taking up three storefronts and three buildings previously owned by Dobbins.
“I don’t know what it’s all about,” DeCola said while sitting with some of the regulars on a recent day. “We just hate to see it go. We’re here Monday through Saturday.”
Co-op manager Lynette Hauf also is sad to see it leaving. She believes Newberry, which opened in 2016, has played a key role in the revival of downtown Lyons.
“That was the whole reason CASH bought the building was to revitalize downtown,” Hauf explained. “We’re one of the reasons for the revitalization.”
Hauf said the store’s closure is a loss for downtown and for the county merchants who sell their products here.
CASH bought the building from Dobbins, owner of Dobbins Drugs, in 2015, for $40,000. However, the sales contract had an unusual clause that allowed him to buy back the building after five years. Hauf said she doesn’t understand why such a provision was included in the building sale, but she has characterized it as Dobbins taking advantage of an opportunity to make a significant profit at the expense of a successful business.
“We give Wayne County residents a place to showcase their goods,” she said.
They charge merchants a 15% consignment fee, while antique vendors rent spaces in the building’s basement, she noted.
CASH hopes to move the café to another of its downtown Lyons properties, but the consignment business is done, she said.
Dobbins said there’s much more to the story.
“I feel bad for Lynette. It’s a tough spot,” he said from his office last week.
Dobbins said he never wanted to sell the building, which, prior to the sale, was used for storage for his drugstore business, which also features a wide range of gift items. He said he was seeking a grant through CASH to renovate the site and was planning to lease it to the agency for Newberry, but the deal turned sour.
“I was forced to sell,” he said. “They said they were not going to push the grant through unless I sold the building.”
The CASH director at the time was Eileen Porto, who has left the agency. Attempts to contact interim director Greg Palmer were unsuccessful on Friday.
Dobbins said he’s been trying to re-obtain the space for nearly two years.
“It would be financially stupid not to buy the building back,” he said, adding that he doesn’t believe CASH made Hauf aware of the buy-back option in the purchase contract. Hauf confirmed that.
And Dobbins doubts Newberry is profitable.
“They’re financially supported by CASH,” he said. “There’s no way they’re making money.”
“We’re not blowing it out of the water, but we’re not in the red,” she said.
Beyond the financial viability of Newberry, Dobbins said Wasman is a successful business owner with great ideas. He never imagined Wassman’s conversion of Evolve for the Home from a primarily home decor into a Christmas store would be a success, but he has been proven wrong.
“Glenn’s going to bring a much better product,” he said. “Glenn is the driver of downtown now. He’s got buses coming in (for his store). He’s got big plans for that building.”
Dobbins didn’t want to speak for what Wasman wants to do at the Newbury site, “but it’s definitely for the betterment of downtown, and we’re excited for what’s to come. If it’s anything like what he’s got over there, he’s going to draw people.”
Wassman was reluctant to talk about the matter.
“I don’t comment on real estate transactions before they happen, but I am looking forward to creating another destination store in downtown Lyons,” he said.
Merchants who have products on consignment at Newberry are upset about losing space at the co-op.
Among them is Donna Butler. She sells antiques in the basement and florals upstairs. She doesn’t know what her next move will be.
“It’s such a shame that it happened,” she said. “I’ve done well here. I’m very thankful. I love Lynette as the manager. The people here are amazing. This is a big asset for our town. I’m heartbroken we have to leave. We really feel bad for the town. We have a lot of locals that shop here.”
Artist Judy Shumway is another merchant sad to see Newberry close. She’s been there since its 2016 opening. Shumway said it’s a draw not just for locals, but for those biking the canal trail and boaters docking in Lyons.
She also feels bad for the co-op’s director.
“Lynette is wonderful to work with,” she said. “She bends over backwards. She’s taking this hard. It’s very personal. It’s a community co-op, the community’s work. It’s all locally made products.”
Dobbins acknowledges that many merchants are being displaced because of the building sale and noted he is offering the former hardware store space adjacent to Dobbins Drug for consignment. He admits, however, that there isn’t enough room for the more than 100 vendors being displaced at Newberry.
He also acknowledges he’s taking some hits for his decision to buy the building and force out Newberry, but maintains the move is for the betterment of downtown Lyons and that people will realize that once Wasman moves in.
“Long-term, they’ll understand,” Dobbins said.
Hauf sees it differently.
“It’s heartbreaking,” she said. “There are a lot of people that care about that space.”