December 21, 2011 | 08:07 AMPELL LAKE — "We're in upheaval and discord here," said Crystal Smith, owner of Chris Ann's Resale, N1178 Clover Road.
It appears the business she and her husband Gary opened last September is in its final days. Crystal said the bank is giving them until the end of the month to clear out of the former Property Shoppe building across from Pell Lake Mobil.
Although the resale shop has been open a little more than a year, she said it has touched numerous lives in the community. When asked how many lives, she said she knows of at least four by name, "but probably a thousand more."
"By keeping our prices so low, we've affected everybody who has ever walked into our store," Crystal said. "Our thing is we don't believe you should have to pay a fortune for your necessity."
Such a business philosophy seems rare in today's economy, but it's one which likely cemented Chris Ann's customer base. Ironically, it's also today's economy which has forced them into closing.
It seemed like a sweet deal at first. Crystal said they were renting the 1,100-square-foot space for $350 a month, not including utilities. Eventually, the building became the bank's.
"The building went into foreclosure last February," Crystal said. "We didn't know about it until roughly September. It went up for sale in a sheriff's auction in October."
Here's the catch. Days before that sale, she said she signed a lease renewal with the landlord. According to Crystal, there was a provision in the lease stating it would automatically renew each year.
However, the bank's attorney told her the bank doesn't do automatic renewals and the lease was null and void because it was signed in October, which was well after the building went into foreclosure.
"I told them you have ripped the rug out from under the community," Crystal said.
She said they have several regulars, several of whom are upset about the closing.
"Our customers are outraged," Crystal said. "They're crying when they come in here. They're hugging me and crying — not just 'boo-hoo,' but really, they're sobbing. They don't know what they're going to do."
One loyal customer, Susie Fleischer, volunteers at the shop. Crystal said Fleischer's daughter told her the shop "gives my mom a reason for living."
According to Crystal, another regular is Mark Kravontka, who hadn't left his house for about three years because he suffers from a panic attack disorder. Then, after Chris Ann's opened, Kravontka's wife made him come to the store. He has shopped there regularly ever since.
"By me opening this store, it's become a comfort zone for him," Crystal said. "This man can't even go to Lake Geneva he gets so panic-stricken."
Crystal, who lives in Pell Lake, said she doesn't know what she's going to do.
"It's tearing me apart," she said. "What are these people going to do?"
Hopes & dreams
She's hoping someone will hear her story and help keep her dream alive.
"My dream has always been to have a resale store," she said.
Her parents operated one in the former opera house in Genoa City.
"I remember going there as a kid to help wash toys," Crystal said. "My parents would sell them for a quarter. (But) I grew up on a farm and we always shopped at rummage sales. It was a way of life. I always tell my customers we're like a rummage sale that has to charge sales tax."
Another motto which applies to Chris Ann's is one person's trash is another's treasure. Some items they sell were found on the side of the road. Most of it was donated to the store — including brand-name clothes from Old Navy, the Gap and Tommy Hilfiger.
Clothes go for $1 an item, or customers can buy a grocery store-bag full for $5. Sometimes, items are free. Crystal said once, someone donated a collection of Disney movies with the instructions that they should be given to children.
She said when she opened the resale shop, it wasn't about making money.
"I just wanted to help the community," Crystal said.
She said her inspiration was local philanthropist Sal Dimiceli, of Time Is Now To Help, an organization the resale shop has supported because of his example.
"I just looked at a man in his position, who can still come down … and work with people on their level, help them and make them feel OK," Crystal said.
But she's not giving up on her dream.
Crystal said she's still looking to rent business space ideally in Pell Lake, Genoa City or the southern part of Lake Geneva.
"People ask me where will I go," she said. "I say, 'Wherever God takes me.'"