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Westcor Weenies

Fred Harper

If Biltmore Fashion Park's lookin' paler than normal — whiter even than the line at a NASCAR concession stand — this bilious blackbird can tell ya why. Seems the swank, Vegasy restaurant-bar-nightclub io, which catered mostly to an upscale African-American crowd, has been kicked to the curb by AZ mall mega-corp Westcor, a subsidiary of the publicly traded real estate giant Macerich, which boasts properties from coast to coast.

The spacious io, with its three bars, dance floor, and luxurious VIP mezzanine, opened for business late in 2005 with a lease runnin' 'til '09. But because the east end of the Biltmore's open-air mall was expected to come down eventually for remodeling in late '07, the lease included a clause allowing landlord Westcor to give io 60 days' notice whenever it deemed fit. Io's neighbors have this clause, too, but io's gettin' the extra-early heave-ho. New Year's Eve was io's last night.

According to white-boy io co-owners David Landreville and Tom Pomeroy, the club's being shown the door because of the color of its clientele, which they estimate to be 65 to 70 percent black on given nights. As io's having to close before expected, the partners are lookin' at a million-dollar loss. And they're alleging discrimination on Westcor's part.

"We're not the type of business Westcor wants," Big Daddy Pomeroy told this cranky cockatiel. "It doesn't blend well with the other businesses. In our first meeting with them, they actually asked us, 'How are you going to handle the blacks?'"

According to both Pomeroy, whose PHX insurance business Pomeroy & Pomeroy is a multimillion-dollar concern, and Landreville, who's run restaurants and clubs in the Valley for years, this Jim Crow-like comment and other such remarks came from two Westcor execs, neither of whom was available for comment because they were both said to be on vacation the week following io's demise.

However, The Bird was able to get hold of Bill Whiteside (yep, that's his real name), Westcor's VP of property management. Whiteside hotly rejected the accusation by io's owners that they're being treated differently because their customers tended to be darker than much of the Biltmore's shopping center clientele. He also denied that any Westcor muck-a-mucks made, er, off-color statements.

Whiteside insisted that io'd drawn complaints from neighbors for noise and other reasons. And he claimed io was operating in violation of its lease because it was doing business as a club rather than a restaurant, which Whiteside said io was supposed to be, according to the lease agreement.

"A restaurant is not a club, and a club is not a restaurant," Whiteside screeched to this scurrilous snipe. "They charged admission. You don't charge admission to restaurants. You charge admission to clubs. When it turned into a club, it was no longer a use that was acceptable to the lease they signed."

Regarding noise, this garrulous gull frequented io on several occasions and never heard music outside of io's doors. And io only charged a cover in the evenings, like with Saturday's Million Dollar Mingle, which drew a well-heeled urban crowd, as caught recently by New Times' own paparazzi princess Lilia Menconi in her Club Candids gallery ("Puttin' On the Urban Ritz," December 28, 2006). During the day, io served lunch, like any other eatery, no cover necessary.

Landreville retorted that Westcor knew io would be operating as a club, which is why io was allowed to stay open 'til 2 a.m., past regular mall hours. Also, Landreville provided this popinjay with a copy of io's lease, which specifically states that "the premises may be used for catering, live and recorded musical entertainment and dancing by customers at the premises."

To be fair, however, the lease lists io's "permitted use" as being "for the operation of a sit-down restaurant and bar," though the references to live music and dancing seem to imply that Westcor knew io was to be more than just a grub shack. Furthermore, the lease-approved menu indicates no dinner entrees, just "small plates," as is often the case in clubland.

If Westcor believed io was to be just a restaurant, why didn't it inquire as to its dinner menu from jump? And why did Westcor even allow dancing and music? Finally, the Biltmore listed details of io parties on its online calendar of events, so Westcor was well aware of io's activities.

Whiteside whined that io's late-night parties continued into the parking lot, but Landreville told this garrulous goose that io hired off-duty PHX police officers to make sure people moved along. PHX PIO Detective Bob Ragsdale found only eight calls for service from io to which Phoenix PD responded during io's year-plus in business, and of those only three were serious enough to merit written reports. This is the sort of nearly-whistle-clean record most nightclubs would love to have.

 

Why, io's kitchen even earned a gold star from county Environmental Services for cleanliness, something not all of io's nearby neighbors can claim.

But what pisses off this puffin is that there was nothing quite like io in the PHX, and now Westcor's shortsighted honchos have offed it prematurely. Io was more like a club you'd find in Gotham, Chi-town or Hotlanta, with jazz, comedy and hip-hop soirees. On any night you might see Suns players Shawn Marion or Amaré Stoudemire, Power FM jock JX3, PHX Black Chamber of Commerce Prez Cody Williams, Iron Mike Tyson, Shannon Briggs, Charles Barkley, Dennis Green, celebrity sex tape hawker David Hans Schmidt, and a gazillion fly femmes of every ethnicity.

Hell, Def Jam records founder Russell Simmons even showed up there once. Freakin' Madonna had her after-party there, for Chrissakes!

If the weenies at Westcor had two cents of gray matter among them, they'd let io stick around for as long as possible so the Biltmore'd have a touch of color and cool, rather than just being one more bland, high-end mall where white-breads go to get their grub on or buy perfumed soap. Where's Jarrett "Kid Sharpton" Maupin when you need him? Maybe an old-fashioned civil rights march is in order.

Basha Da Union

Unless you're livin' like former Unabomber Ted Kaczynski — in a shack somewhere sans boob tube — you've probably seen these Bashas' TV commercials featuring grocery store scion Eddie Basha talking about how his employees (from clerk to janitor) are all members of one big happy Bashas' family. Heh, as long as they don't pull none of that there union organizin', eh, Eddie?

Basha's a longtime Dem who ran for AZ Gov in '94 as his party's nominee and lost to the soon-to-be-run-out-on-a-rail Republican Fife Symington. But this self-declared "bleeding heart capitalist" doesn't cotton to organized labor, whether it's at his yupper-class AJ's Fine Foods, or at his ordinary Bashas' or Food City stores. Sure, the dood's a liberal when it comes to pimpin' Proposition 203, the 80-cents-a-pack ciggy tax hike that's supposed to fund early childhood education initiatives. But if Sally Field's Norma Rae were to show up at a Bashas' tomorrow, she might end up in handcuffs.

Don't believe this cheeky chirper? Last May, a manager at AJ's in Uptown Plaza actually performed a "citizen's arrest" on two labor organizers attempting to meet with workers there. Apparently, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union has been trying to sink its talons into Eddie Basha's stores, and he's determined to keep 'em clear of his aisles, even when they have a right to be there.

Back in '93, Bashas' bought out a handful of groceries owned by a different chain — one that was unionized. In 2001, when Bashas' again expanded, it did so by purchasing the assets of a union grocer. UFCW's Local 99 asserts it still represents these workers — about 600 out of Bashas' total of 14,000 employees.

Bashas' refuses to meet with the union, refuses to recognize it, and claims that, when it purchased the two smaller chains, it didn't transfer employees — it rehired them as non-union. So last June, when Bashas' announced a major change to its employees' health benefits, it didn't consult the UFCW.

Enter the National Labor Relations Board. Acting on a complaint from the union, the federal agency did a preliminary investigation, and scheduled the case for a February hearing, where the NLRB will act as prosecutor. David Kelly, a supervising attorney with the NLRB, tweeted that the feds found "reasonable cause" that Bashas' had violated the law.

Bashas' flack Rob Johnson insists Bashas' has done nothing wrong. Not a single employee in the chain is getting a payroll deduction for union membership, Johnson squawked. Remember that commercial where Eddie chirps: "There are no employees at Bashas'!"? They're all just family.

Peeped Johnson, "Our people are happy here. They have nothing to be gained by bringing an intermediary in."

Gee, ain't that what Southerners said about slaves before the Civil War?

Last summer, Bashas' hired on former Valley news babe Mary Jo West to handle PR on the prob. It was West, y'all will recall, who managed to get the Catholic diocese back on track after Bishop Thomas O'Brien's unfortunate Indian-killin' incident.

Even with West's assistance, some of Eddie's pals were running for cover before the NLRB found his union boil worth lancing. Sources tell this tweeter that, last summer, now-Democratic Congresswoman Gabby Giffords dropped Basha as an honorary campaign chair in exchange for endorsements from various labor groups.

If Eddie Basha's fight with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union continues, his political clout may be worth as much as Monty Python's dead parrot. And all because he can't keep his troubles within Bashas' big ol' happy family.

 

Scaredy-Cat Joe

Could it be that the toughest dad-gum lawman in the nation was quiverin' in his wingtips, all 'cause New Times' print edition sent him a Christmas card using the address of his Fountain Hills nest ("Joe Strikes Back," December 21, 2006)?

Locally, Fox 10 news was the only news org to cover the Xmas card cover — brought on by Joe Arpaio's seeking a felony indictment of this publication for revealing the sheriff's address in a 2004 column investigating his real estate deals. Our point was that he hides details of his commercial properties, when his home address is all over the Internet. A state law allows lawmen to redact their home addresses from public records, but his isn't, while his commercial stuff is kept secret.

When Fox 10 reporter Bruce Dunbar asked Sheriff Alzheimer's about New Times' front-page Xmas card response, Joe was all bluster, grumbling, "There is a law, and I am not going to surrender. I am going to pursue this and not give up."

Sure, Joe, there's a law, all right. And you're the one misusing it to hide your real estate transactions. As we keep saying, anybody who can Google can find your home address. No problem!

Meanwhile, Joe was ruining the Xmas of some of his deputies by ordering them to keep guard over his abode during the holidays. One family member of one such deputy wrote in to this warbler.

"Deputies who'd have had those days off to spend with their family now need to sit in front of his house protecting [Joe]," the writer kvetched. "You don't hear of any other stories of different chiefs from around the Valley requiring their officers to protect their homes."

This persistent pelican called up Joe flack Lisa Allen MacPherson to confirm the beefing up of Joe's security at taxpayer expense. Naturally, she declined to comment (Arpaio's office makes a point of violating New Times' constitutional rights), but before doing so, she asked with a frisky flutter, "Are you that Bird guy — that guy who called me a MILF?"

To be exact, this flirty finch called MacPherson "MILFY-hot" in its alter ego's blog, but then The Bird is pretty desperate.

Local rock station 98KUPD at least had some fun with the Joe-New Times kerfuffle. Afternoon jock Fitz Madrid joked on-air imagining citizens sending the holed-up Joe and wife Ava free pizzas and Chinese food. He quipped that the guys at Ha Ha China (one of the few Chinese eateries in Joe's 'hood) were the only ones working those eves shortly before Xmas.

"Oh, dat Joe!" sputtered Madrid in a politically incorrect, pseudo-Chinese accent. "Him so hungry. Ate all sparerib. Forty-eight egg roll this hour!"

Cracked Madrid to this mockingbird when asked about it: "Joe must have had his wallet out every nine minutes with all the things getting delivered to his house."

Joe shoulda called this hungry hawk. Not only would it have delivered cocoa and cookies to Joe's unfortunate deputies, it would've bought at least one round of egg foo yung for Joe and Ava. Of course, then Joe'd have this Bird on charges of "contributing to the already ginormous paunch of a lawman," right?


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