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Vacuum business leaves Elks building

The departure of Medford Elks Lodge's renter Wayne Smith has left a business vacuum at the Elks Lodge building in Medford.

It's not like Smith wanted to move his vacuum cleaner sales and service business from its location of 16 years. But when he couldn't come to terms with his landlords at 232 N. Central Ave., he decided it was time to pull the plug.

In January, Stark's Valley Vacuum relocated to 2072 W. Main St. in a move Smith said cost about $10,000, not to mention customer confusion.

Last August, Elks members told Smith the building lease would be put to bid. Smith had been paying $1,050 monthly rent for the 2,700 square-foot, 40-year-old building and bid $1,200. Bidding closed Aug. 31 and, on Sept. 6, Elks board chairman Michael Torguson notified Smith he had retained leasing rights.

But the lease drawn up by Medford attorney Barry N. Shaw left Smith with few options.

"We anticipated a lease like we had in the past; but the one we were asked to sign was so ridiculous we really had no choice," said Smith, who managed to finish moving out of the old location at about 10 p.m. on New Year's Day.

It was one thing to pay $150 a month more in rent, but quite another to be liable for maintaining an aging "as is" building and paying for all long-term improvements out of his own pocket.

Most troubling, Smith said, was a paragraph stating: "All mechanical, electrical, plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems and all equipment shall be in good operating order at the termination of this lease. The systems shall be inspected by reputable electrical, mechanical or plumbing contractor designated by (the) landlord at the sole cost and obligation of the tenant."

The search for a new location wasn't easy.

"Most of the places, everybody wanted an arm and a leg and a case of beer for lease - outrageous prices," Smith said. "I don't know how they expect small businesses to stay open with the rent they want."

He was able obtain five-year sub-lease in a building shared with Advanced TV and VCR. Smith said access and parking are superior to his old site, where vehicles have been known to plow through the window. Even though the rent for the 2,700 square-foot facility is $1,300 a month, the reduced heating and cooling costs more than compensate.

"It's real close to the size of the old store and the way this is laid out we can utilize the space much better," Smith said. "The showroom is a little smaller, but it works out for us."

That leaves an empty building at one of downtown's busiest corners, but Torguson and John Hamlin, a commercial real estate agent with Caldwell Banker ProWest, are confident a new tenant will surface.

"It's a highly desirable location," Hamlin said. "If it's a restaurant or bar, don't bother. But there's been tremendous interest because of the location. The issues of price vs. condition can be dealt with in the lease."

Torguson said he didn't want to talk about the lodge's strained relations with Smith, but said the Elks will be satisfied by the terms of a future lease.

"People aren't pounding the door, but we've had enough interest that we're not worried. We're optimistic we'll be getting the building rented for fair market value. The lodge isn't going to shoot itself in the foot," Torguson.

"We're both a charity and a business and we're more than happy about that. But business is business and charity is charity."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail .