Sports Page Sues Northwest Arkansas Mall for $2.5 Million Over Alleged Eviction

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A Fayetteville businesswoman filed a $2.5 million lawsuit May 20 claiming the Northwest Arkansas Mall evicted her shop to make way for a large national chain store.

After 24 years at the mall, Gail Segers, owner of Sports Page, says her athletic apparel shop was forced from the mall to make room for Victoria’s Secret, a women’s lingerie store with locations nationwide. Segers says the move cost her about $450,000 and her business.

Segers filed the suit in Washington County Circuit Court alleging fraud by the mall; the Rouse Co., the Maryland-based company that owns the mall; and Ed Pilarz, former manager of the mall. Segers is seeking at least $2.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages. Segers’ company, Hall of Fame Inc., owns Sports Page.

“The little people are getting treated like dirt,” says Segers. “I am a little guy going against a large corporation, and they are going to try to crush me. I think what they have done to me is very wrong. I was there during the years the mall was growing and building.”

Segers says she stuck with the mall when times were tough, when shoppers still preferred the downtown areas of Fayetteville and Springdale. She opened her store in the mall in 1972, before J.C. Penney, the second major anchor, moved into the building.

“Then, about the time it’s ready to be the shopping mecca of Northwest Arkansas, I’m no longer allowed to be there,” she says.

Segers says Pilarz told her in 1994 that Sports Page could stay at the mall, then he wrote her in November 1995 to say she must leave. Segers was trying to sell the business at that time, and claims she was unable to do so because she was being evicted.

Segers says Pilarz came to see her after sending her the letter and “apologized profusely.”

“He said it was a national corporation, and all they [The Rouse Co.] wanted was big chains,” she says.

“There’s a lot of stuff she’s saying that’s just not true,” says Pilarz, who now manages Park Plaza mall in Little Rock. He refused to comment further.

“The Sports Page complaint has not been served on the Northwest Arkansas Mall to my knowledge,” says Lisa Knemeyer, a spokeswoman for the mall. “The mall is investigating the allegations made by Sports Page, and we will respond. We do generally work to maintain good relations with our tenants and our former tenants.”

After leaving the mall, Segers moved Sports Page in May 1996 to the south side of the downtown Fayetteville square and opened a second store last November at Fiesta Square in Fayetteville. The downtown store floundered, however, and she was forced to close it April 22 and consolidate inventory at the Fiesta Square store.

Although rent was cheaper on the downtown square (about 20 percent of what she was paying at the mall), Segers says there were fewer shoppers downtown, making it impossible for her to stay open.

According to the suit, Pilarz told Segers during the summer of 1994 that the lease for Sports Page would be renewed. The typical lease term for the mall is six years, Segers says. Segers told Pilarz that Sports Page intended to renew its lease for a six-year period beginning Feb. 1, 1996. Segers began trying to sell the business. Then, in a letter dated Nov. 2, 1996, Pilarz told Segers her lease would not be renewed.

“As I have stated before,” wrote Pilarz, “we do not plan to keep you in place at your location after your lease expires 01/31/96.”

In the letter, Pilarz says he told Segers “in our last conversation” that he might have a temporary space for the shop to occupy through March 1996 and the NCAA basketball tournament.

“Due to numerous changes that have occurred to our development plan,” wrote Pilarz, “I do not have space for you after your lease expires in January. There is some retail space for lease around the mall in strip centers that may suit your needs, and I would be happy to contact them for you if you are interested.”

In a response dated Nov. 13, Segers says Pilarz previously told her she would not be losing her lease and that she would be allowed to stay through the NCAA tournament.

“You denied that I was losing my lease, per se; you said you knew of my desires to remain and that I needed to let you know whether I wanted to remain on a permanent or temporary basis so that we could work up a lease,” wrote Segers. “Never have you ever told me that I would not be allowed to remain as a tenant of the NWA Mall in any facet. … You have told me that I would have to be moved within the mall and downsize, and that I should think about becoming a totally focused Razorback store. But, you never indicated that my lease would not be renewed.”

In a recent interview, Segers says Pilarz “told me for a long time that I would be downsized and moved” because rent was going up and it would be too expensive to stay in her present location. Segers says the amount of profit the mall required her to pay was also increased from 6 percent to 7 percent at that time (after a certain level of sales is reached). Segers says the hike in rent forced other small businesses to leave the mall as well.

Segers is alleging fraud, misrepresentation, deceit , interference with business practices and unfair trade practices on the part of mall management.

In the suit, Segers says Pilarz “intended to inflict emotional distress or willfully and wantonly knew or should have known that emotional distress was the likely result from his conduct.”

Segers, who graduated in May from law school at the University of Arkansas, is acting as her own attorney.