filed under Activism | Food

Too Good To Go

4:35PM ON 07/31/2009
BY Annie Messier

Liberty ElmUPDATE: For those unable to make it for lunch or an afternoon snack (peach pecan bread today, yum!) before 3:00 this afternoon, fear not–the Liberty Elm will be open until 8:00 p.m. selling gift certificates. Come grab one/some tonight and reap the benefits later with an already-paid-for meal!

ORIGINAL: They’ve hosted everything from “Americana Breakfast Club” (free music every Sunday 11-1) to evening “Your Roots Are Showing” concerts to art galleries to election parties. They’ve survived a violating robbery and vandalism and committed to donating 1% of their profits to growing trees in South Providence. They use local ingredients, providing business to farmers (and whoever makes those cute little drink umbrellas on every plate). They’ve converted a 1947 Worcester lunch car into a funky, wi-fi’d, bike-friendly mecca. And they make you feel at home, from Judie’s witty greetings to Tink’s smile, which has probably made the Liberty Elm my favorite eatery in the state.

Now they need help, and lots of it. They are one of 1,200 RI small businesses facing closure this week.

The taxman cometh TOMORROW. Let’s see if we can increase business before then. Yummy food served until 3pm today, and open 7am to 3pm tomorrow (if tomorrow isn’t too late). See you there for lunch!

777 Elmwood Avenue (2 blocks north of the main entrance to Roger Williams State Park) Providence

15 Comments on “ Too Good To Go ”

  1. 1) Do we know if the diner is one of the places where the state didn’t realize it had cashed its check or is the Liberty Elm indeed one of the tax dodgers?

    2) If the later is true: I’m struck by the level of support folks will give to a business that dodged its taxes! When a corporation uses tax shelters or when a public official doesn’t pay their taxes the public is up in arms about it. So, why then do you ask us to promote an organization that is hurting the state by not paying the taxes that will help albeit minimally alleviate a lot of the state’s current social ills? This is hypocrisy at its finest. Just because it is a ‘cool’ place doesn’t mean that we should support it. What about all the other ‘cool’ places that DID pay their taxes? We should be rewarding those folks instead!

    3) If the former is true and maybe just regardless: I know that this state is a mess, we all know the state is a mess. It’s worse, internally, than anyone of us can imagine.

  2. Annie Messier

    Good questions and points, Jess. I obtained some details in today’s front-page ProJo article on the diner (I’d link it, but projo.com doesn’t seem to work for me today). It appears the Elm’s owners were delinquent on their taxes, so this was not a mistake on the state’s part as with some of the mom-and-pop businesses; it was a mistake on the Liberty Elm’s. I’m disappointed, but I’m still fully supportive of them remaining in business.

    As the ProJo reported yesterday (link above), most of the representatives of those 1,248 businesses facing closure lined up at the state division of taxation “cited economic pressure and the constant fear of closure as the reason for their delinquency.” Today’s article on the Elm seconds that: “But like so many small business owners, [Liberty Elm owner Carol DeFeciani]’s not sure how her debts mounted.” The Elm opened just two years ago, and their owners and staff put so much heart and soul into proving a quality service just in time for a recession to hit Rhode Island earlier than most other states.

    The ProJo also stated that someone gave Ms. DeFeciani bad advice that her taxes could “wait a few months until the economic pressures subsided,” and she spent that time focusing on paying other bills and paychecks in the meantime. I wish things had been done differently, but I don’t believe that the Elm willfully tried to deceive or steal from the state. I think the economy got away from them just as with many of us. My partner and I know more than a few people who’ve recently lost their jobs, we’re both worried about our own, and therefore we’ve slacked off on visiting some local businesses that have a positive impact on our cities and towns. For slowing my patronage, I’m implicit in the Liberty Elm’s financial troubles. If customers aren’t coming, they’re not going to make money, and the Elm is one business that should make it. Really, with a state business environment that’s been called unfriendly (and worse), odds are low that others will rush in to open a new business in the Elm’s place if they’re forced to close. Either the state can give them some time to make up for their mistake (and kudos to the division of taxation for cutting them a bit of a deal already), or we can all look at a decrepit, empty dining car shell while their staff get in line to collect unemployment and add to the perception that mom-and-pops (or in this case mom-and-moms, as the Elm is women-owned) that open in Rhode Island won’t make it, even if their product is excellent.

    And yeah, the state probably is a mess. Regarding your question of hypocrisy, why can our own state dip into other revenue sources like TDI when it needs to pay bills, but then penalize small businesses that don’t have the luxury of access to other revenue sources to plug leaks?
    I’ll admit there were a couple times I wish we hadn’t moved here (and certainly times I regretted purchasing a house here!), but there are many bright spots to Rhode Island that ultimately make me proud to live here. I consider the Liberty Elm one such bright spot for its commitment to its neighborhood and local businesses, which is something I’d like to see more of in a culture where out-of-state and even overseas companies seem to own so many of the companies that operate here. They don’t have to get away with something others can’t; they just need more flexibility and compassion until they’ve had a chance to weather out this storm. So whether everyone agrees or not, I’m pushing for the Liberty Elm to make it, and maybe I’ve learned my lesson that if I like a place, I should darn well eat there more often.

  3. Annie Messier

    Whew, that was long! Sorry if I made anyone’s eyes bleed. I think yogurt makes me preachy.

  4. Annie – Thanks for the response. I’ve been personally touched by many of the state’s problems so I share your pain and uneasiness.

    Regarding the hypocrisy part…you prove my point exactly. You’re willing to complain about the state dipping into other funds but then protect/shield a small business owner, that you favor, that held back some of their collected state sales taxes. If the Tim Horton’s on Smith Hill held back state sales taxes, I’m sure that you wouldn’t be happy about it. ( I wouldn’t know for sure because the link to the projo is not working here, either)

    I agree that we need more small mom and pop shops – I’m actually a huge proponent of local shopping/CSA/etc – but we should hold these places to the same common standards of sound legal and fiscal practices. I even support the concept of a small neighborhood diner but if the business owner is receiving bad advice and can’t keep paying their employees then that particular business is just a drain on resources.

  5. Has anybody asked how the state putting employees of 1248 businesses on unemployment is going to help anyone?

  6. It’s not going to help at all. It’s really terrible and really unfortunate and part of the snowballing economic downfall process of the awful state of the state.

  7. Jess, your subserviance to government tax collectors is cringe inducing. You’re obviously just looking for an argument and a chance put down a business that fell behind in their taxes. (5K is relatively small change).

    Your comparison to the Timmys on Smith Hill doesn’t fly either. It’s big businesses like Timmys/Wendy’s that get tax breaks and tax relief to set up shop in RI.

    And fuck yeah, because the Liberty Elm is cool is a perfectly acceptable reason to try and keep it afloat.

    You act like dodging your taxes is some sort of despicable thing and it’s not. It happens. Big business succeeds because they don’t pay any fucking taxes. The Liberty Elm is not hurting anyone by falling behind 5K in their taxes and keeping them going would provide much more to the common good than holding these places to the same common standards of sound legal and fiscal practices.

  8. Annie Messier

    Oh, it’s true that I’m playing favorites a bit here. I don’t celebrate that the Elm made a bad choice to withhold its state taxes. I just recognize that they didn’t have other options and stating that some things are important enough for me to want to stand behind the Elm. In this big-box culture, we’re quickly losing our identity. Many larger companies pay lip service to us with donations of money to a few local causes or whatever, but what kind of tangible or emotional community connection has, say, Wal-Mart really created since they opened in Providence? All I’ve seen is an increase in happy-faced blue plastic bags floating down Silver Springs.

    Eek, I’m veering dangerously close to knocking every large or non-local business, and I’d really rather not. Just as I’d really rather not see all the businesses facing closure today painted with one broad “delinquent!” brush. They all have stories of their own, and they’re trying to make it in a super hard environment. The Elm has always provided top-notch product, and I’m really pulling for them to make it. Wouldn’t it be great if they found a way to pay that tax bill, have the Food Network come back and do that big TV special the ProJo mentioned, and be another positive way to put Rhode Island on the map? (And not in the “bigger than/smaller than” way.) Falling behind on the taxes may make the Elm a “drain on resources” in some books, but there are so many ways that they are so very the opposite of a drain that they’re still worth the good fight.

  9. Annie Messier

    Terrible news, Sue–the ProJo reported that they owe $25,000. $5,000 due today and $20,000 due, well, I’m not sure when.

  10. Welcome to the conversation Sue!

    Thanks for having an opinion on this topic. So do I, that’s why I responded and entered into conversation. Just because my opinion is different than Annie’s (or yours) doesn’t mean that I’m trying to pick a fight or argue. That’s the best part about a public blog like this is that it informs the public, and maybe start a discussion about various ’stuff’, with all thoughts included. I do apologize if I came off as trying to pick a fight. It wasn’t my intent, I was just excited about differing opinions!

    As for the Tim Horton’s comparison. I’ve changed my mind about it: You’re right in that maybe it is an unfair comparison but upon further inspection, its not why you may think. According to the US Franchise website for TH, each store is independently owned and operated, meaning that they are a small business just like the Elm in that they are subject to the same tax rate and most likely did not get a sales tax break. However, TH is a franchise which means that they are subject to a $400K to $600K franchise fee, which the Elm doesn’t have. So, it looks like recent franchisees are probably in the same boat or worse than the Elm.

    As for $25K, it’s true that it is only .7% (and $5K is only .15%) of the $3.2Mill gap owed to the state, but if we let everyone totally of the hook, than that’s $3.2 Million that will be made up in other places (Maybe increase in taxes?).

    I finally got my hands on a paper and the article was heartwarming; I’m glad that the Elm has got some time and was able to negotiate. If only all places could have that outcome, we wouldn’t see a bump in unemployment tomorrow! I wish that we could get the state to give us the data on the amount of employees that would be lost and the amount that will have to be paid by unemployment. Don’t forget that former employers are supposed to pay unemployment, so how would it work with all those places out of business? SCARY!

    As far as being subservient to tax collectors: I DEFINITELY am ! I’m happy to pay my taxes as I really like stop signs, sidewalks, public parks, pothole free streets, public education, police, and I like it when government tries to care for the less fortunate as in the state’s (pitiful) welfare program.

    Another apology for possible eye bleeding here!

    And a special thanks to Annie for really awesome conversation!

  11. Sorry – I didn’t log in as myself while at work–I also go by Data_geek
    Jess

  12. To be $25,000 in debt to the State for sales tax is pretty serious. If you assume that the diner does $7,000 in sales per week (which seems high to me, but I’d rather err on the positive side) then it owes $2,240 per month in sales taxes. They would have to skip paying for 11 or 12 months for the debt to get up to $25,000. That seems a little more drastic than a clerical or accounting error.

    I love the place and hope they can work it out. They really are doing a wonderful thing for the residents of the South Side. But this seems a little more serious than it looks at first glance.

  13. Is there an update on this? I didn’t see if they made their tax goal and were permitted to stay open. Our family loves the Elm, but finances haven’t allowed us to eat there in awhile.

  14. Annie Messier

    I’m pleased to report the Liberty Elm raised the $5,000 due last Friday and are still in business.

    Their next goal is to raise another $5,000 by August 28th. They are looking for more customers through the month of August, and we’re eating there as much as we can in hopes it will help. They are also raffling off two front-row Lucinda Williams tickets at $5/raffle ticket…

  15. [...] a year ago, the Daily Dose reported that Providence diner The Liberty Elm was in trouble. Local media had announced at the time that [...]

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