For 25 years, the New England tire and automobile service center has been doing business on the property of Simon Property Group in Burlington Mall. They currently have a lease with Federated Department Stores, the owners of the independent store on the Middlesex Turnpike.
"We were approached to set up shop at the property since the inception of the Burlington Mall," said Paul Sullivan, one of the four brothers who runs Sullivan Tires as a family-owned business. "We agreed even though we lacked adequate staff at that time."
What emerged out of an old-line chain founded by Sullivan’s father 51 years ago, Sullivan Tires and their auto servicing under the aegis of Macy’s Car Care generates $3 million in annual business and employs approximately 30 people.
The tables are now turned. Even though they have yet to receive a notice to leave, Simon Property’s recent restructuring plans at the mall had Sullivan Tires out of the picture.
It was evident before the town Planning Board last Thursday.
"The name starts with an N and ends with an M and some of you can guess that this high-end chain will anchor 149,000 square feet of space where Filene’s existed," said Mark T Vaughan, attorney, Riemer & Braunstein. He continued, "Macy’s Car Care Service, owned by Federated Department, is closing the store at their end of the mall. Instead, Crate and Barrel will open an independent outlet on that location."
Vaughan was representing Simon Property, whose officials flew in from the headquarters in Indiana to inform the Planning Board about their plans to upscale their property in Burlington.
Early in 2006 Nordstrom announced that it was be opening at the mall with 160 specialty shops and four restaurants. Filenes’ recent exodus from the mall was a part of parent flagship Federated Department Stores’ decision to divest the brand across Massachusetts.
"Burlington Mall is one of Simon Property’s jewel that they take pride investing in," said Vaughan. With the help of drawn-up maps, he explained what the exteriors of Nordstrom would look like, including the two-level store they would occupy.
The local lawyer for Simon’s property also explained what the new landscape at the mall would look like, answering questions the Planning Board had about the anticipated traffic once Crate and Barrel sold their houseware and furniture collection where Sullivan Tires currently fixes cars.
"There would be a raised pedestrian sidewalk, more street lights and traffic signs for customers crossing over," he said.
Once Vaughan received an approval for his client’s plan, it was Sullivan Tires’ lawyer that presented their grievance against a plan about which he claimed his client was not aware. Sullivan could not attend the Planning Board meeting, as he was dealing with death in the family. One of the four brothers, David Sullivan, died unexpectedly.
"If we were a part of the plan, then we would not have had to come to you tonight," said Ralph J. Rivkind, attorney, Rackemann, Sawyer & Brewster. "Simon’s Property had not opened dialogues with us about their plans till recently. For months, we have been hearing rumors about Crate and Barrel taking our place."
The Sullivans were at a family gathering in Maine when he read an article in the Boston Herald reporting Crate and Barrel opening a store to replace Sullivan Tires at Burlington Mall. They were not surprised at that time.
"They had used the same under-the-radar tactic to remove us from South Shore Plaza in Braintree," said Sullivan, "We had to shift to another location, but there is no store in our place at the mall site in Braintree."
Their landlord, Federated Department Stores, however, claimed that Sullivan Tires was making false claims.
"For months, we have been talking to them about a pending deal that may require us to terminate their lease according to the terms of agreement," said Elina Kazan, director, publicity, Federated Department Stores. "In fact, people have had us confused with the name, Macy’s Car Care Service. The name was given by Sullivan Tires, and does not belong to our flagship brand ‘Macy’s.’"
"It depends on when they spoke. We have an established business and are concerned about the future of our employees. Give us ample time to inform our 11,000 customers. This is too short a notice," said Roy Donlon, director real estate, Sullivan Tires.
Donlon claimed that, apart from newspaper articles, Sullivan Tires owners received word of their move from hearsay: Employees at the store heard from a driver of a canteen truck that a neighbor had a demolition contract to raze their building. Sullivan also witnessed personnel flown in from Indiana to measure his store.
"They said that the measurements were for tax purposes, but we have already paid our dues," said Sullivan.
At the Planning Board meeting, Rivkind appealed to members that Sullivan Tires very much wanted to continue where they were.
"If, of the 28,000 square feet space, we could occupy even a third of it, we could be content," he said.
But the Planning Board made it clear that their hands were tied.
"We sympathize with you, but there’s nothing we can do on their property," said Jane Hyde, chairman, Planning Board. "It is between you and Simon Property to decide."
Simon Property met with the subcommittee of the Planning Board on a number of occasions, informing members, including Ernest Covino and John DeFrancesco, about their redevelopment plans.
"Planning Director Tony Fields was shocked that we knew nothing about the plan," said Donlon.
Simon Property officials, on the other hand, stood up before the microphone to explain that they were not bound to inform Sullivan Tires because their lease agreement is with Federated Department Stores.
Despite the wind not being in their favor, Sullivan Tires did receive a voice of support at the Planning Board meeting during citizen’s time.
"The tactics the mall owners have deployed to put Sullivan Tires out of business is unethical," said resident Richard Tarpy. He made light of the fact that one "Cracker Barrel," which he mispronounced for Crate and Barrel, should replace them.
Currently occupying space inside Burlington Mall, houseware and furniture specialty store Crate and Barrel has had its planners and architects designing for a new store at the premises where Sullivan Tires currently exists.
"But we were not aware that we were going to displace someone else," said Bette Kahn, spokesperson for Crate and Barrel, "All we had was a tentative plan to relocate as an independent store toward 2007, once our lease expired."