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Why is Miele's Being Sold?

The first story in our series on the Miele's condo application tells of the family feud that led to the sale of the property.

The brewing battle over the 103-year-old and the potential to turn it into a condominum complex is a fight that began as a family feud long before last week's .

Louis Miele, who owns the property on Lake Avenue, claims he built the family business to what it is — or was, he says — before renting the property to his niece Mary Ellen Brennan. Since Brennan took over running the business in 2002 with her business partner Chris Shimko, Miele says the century-old family nursery “has been run into the ground.” He says his best workers quit, that Brennan doesn’t show up to work until late in the day, that they’ve cut corners and lost the quality product he sold, and that the business is closed far too often.

Miele, 77, lived on the property and worked there his entire life before retiring to the Catskills 10 years ago. A year ago, Miele entered into negotiations with Clark developer George Sangiuliano to sell the five-acres of land. Sangiuliano intends to build 39 condos on the property, pending approval by the Clark planning board. Miele says he's selling to Sangiuliano for $2.5 million.

"I'd rather not discuss numbers," Sangiuliano said when asked the price.

"My grandfather and father ran it and it was a truck farm," Miele says. "I took over when I got out of high school and built it up to what it was. I was up every morning at 5 a.m. and went until 7 at night. Now I have customers calling me up here and complaining to me about how bad their stuff is. Mary took over the job of growing and she really has not had any experience in growing. If I was younger and had my health, I’d take it over again and have it back to where it was within two or three years."

Miele's health deteriorated when had a stroke in 2003. He's since had open-heart surgery and requires 24-hour care, according to his wife Pat.

Brennan, however, paints a different picture. She says her uncle “has always been about the almighty dollar,” calling him greedy and saying that his own daughter doesn't speak with him. She also believes Miele "isn't fully there" since his stroke. Brennan claims that the rent her uncle charges (it was $24,000 a month, before they renegotiated) is astronomical compared to the profits to be made.

"We’ve been really overpaying for this property since day one," says Brennan. "The rent was just a number he had in mind."

Miele says he had a good relationship with Brennan – who worked for him since 1992 – for the first seven years that she was renting even though they differed on how to run the business, and that he made the three-hour drive down from the Catskills once a week to consult and advise Brennan. "I was always willing to help them but they never took it," says Miele. 

"The one thing I’ll give him is that he did take it a step further," says Brennan. "He definitely built up the business. Without a doubt, I can't take that away from him."

Trouble started between Miele and Brennan when she stopped paying rent two years ago, according to Miele – a claim that Brennan disputes. He says he feels he has to sell the property, though he wishes it would stay in the family or as a greenhouse, because no one would take over a struggling business.

"The property is the only thing that’s worth something now," Miele says. "If it isn’t sold for this project, it’s going to be sold for something else. Everything doesn't last forever."

“When he was running the business it was grossing over $2 million a year and now they aren’t even doing half that,” adds Miele’s wife Pat.

Brennan believes that business isn’t what it was because times have changed.

"When we took it over it was antiquated," says Brennan. "The heating systems never worked properly. That's one of the reasons we didn’t grow poinsettias this year."

Brennan argues that gardening is a luxury and these are tough times, people can buy plants at places like Home Depot and ShopRite, plus, with the sale, customers think Miele’s is already closed or are angry they sold, and so she’s lost business.

"I can establish that there are many people in this business that are suffering," says Brennan. "In order to be profitable, you have to diversify. A lot of the things he was insisting I do weren’t cost-effective, and if I didn’t do what he wanted he’d scream at me. He’s out of the loop. He’s thinking back 20 years ago. The last good year Miele's had was in 1999."

"She claims people aren't planting, and that's bologna," Miele counters. "People are planting, but they're not going to buy from you if the quality isn't there."

Brennan also feels the sale was underhanded and that her uncle gave her no opportunity to buy the property.

“They called to tell me they were in a contract,” she says. "He strung me along since 2002 about being able to buy it."

Brennan says her uncle also blames her for ruining an earlier deal to sell the property. "They wanted to put in assisted living and he claims he could have gotten five million dollars," she says.

Miele insists he gave Brennan plenty of opportunities to buy the property from him.

"They could’ve got farm credit," he says. "I was even going to co-sign for them. Then when they said rent was too high, I brought it down to almost half as much and they still can't pay me."

“They had a wonderful opportunity," he says. "How many people get to take over a thriving business for nothing? Now they just want me to hand it over to them for nothing, and I bought the property from my parents and paid them true value."

According to Brennan's records in the greenhouse's office, Miele bought the property for $68,000 in 1973. (The Clark clerk's office couldn't confirm this by Thursday afternoon.)

"I’ve already given him almost the full dollar amount of what he wanted for this property," says Brennan. "And I have made payments on the rent since we were struggling. I paid them $120,000 last year and about $60,000 this year. And when I was unable to pay the $24,000 a month I let him know instantly that in this economy that was not doable."

Miele says he is in discussions with his lawyer about filing suit to get two years worth of back rent. He also claims that his niece is in cahoots with neighbors who are opposed to the condo project and that she has gone to other measures to stall the sale of the property, including telling an assessor that the soil was contaminated on certain areas of the farm.  

For her part, Brennan says she is in no way involved with Clark Neighbors, the group most vocal about opposing the condo project.

"As far as contamination, I personally saw my uncle knock over a whole drum of gasoline," Brennan argues. "He dumped oil in one section for years. At that time people didn’t know you couldn’t do that."

Furthermore, she’s upset about the turmoil she believes her uncle has caused within the family.

"I’m very hurt by the whole thing," Brennan says. "My poor aunt who lives in Clark is embarrassed to go places and have people know that she knows she's a Miele."

Brennan also says that her uncle gave little consideration to the fact that she was dealing with a personal tragedy when they began fighting over the rent.

"My husband drowned in August 2009, and to think knowing what happened he would continue to try to hurt me..." says Brennan. "He’s heartless."

“We have less product because there’s no business, and it’s even more impossible to make money when people know we’re sold,” she says. “If they put up some sort of 'Coming Soon' advertising the condos, we’re toast.”

Brennan has her own concerns about the condo plan: “He’s not going to be able to sell all those units and then he’ll be renting and there will be transient people in and out,” she says. “It could also overload the school system. There are teachers that come to store and they say Hehnly School is already at maximum capacity.”

Brennan says it’s been heartbreaking to hear customers so upset about the idea of condos in Miele’s place. “It’s everyday — ask the cashiers,” she says. “It’s almost too much. It wears on you."

--

This is the first post in our series. Check back tomorrow for our story on the Clark Neighbors and their objections to the Miele's condo application and next week for interviews with George Sangiuliano, Mayor Sal Bonaccorso and others. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter to catch the next installment.

Leenie2u October 27, 2011 at 08:25 PM
I've always shopped at Miele's because they have great quality product at reasonable prices and still do! I had to cut back a little on size of my purchases because of the economy for the past 2 yrs, but plan to increase my purchases as my spendable income comes back. I encourage others to do the same and help change Mr Miele's mind and allow his niece to buy the property and business. It has a good reputation and is a vital part of Clark and surrounding communities. The last thing we need is another farm lost forever to developers.
Andrea Kurtz October 27, 2011 at 08:28 PM
It's very disappointing to hear of the farm closing. The original owner might think that his niece has driven the business down but that's not something that any of us are noticing. I know alot of people who go there and I myself am there every weekend before heading into my garden. Peoplke are very upset about the sale, we've all been doing business with them for years and especially to have condo's being put up. We don't need anymore of them!! We need a great plant/flower/gift place like Miele's. I hope maybe they'll reconsider and the old man will realize what he's doing to the people that have given them business all these years. The place is GREAT, even if he thinks his niece isn't doing a good job! YES SHE IS!! No Condo's, Keep Miele's!!
Gloria DeMarzo February 27, 2012 at 02:26 AM
I live on Lake Ave and one of the reasons we moved here was to live on the block by this beautiful landmark, Miele's. I am sorry that Mr Miele feels that he needs to sell the property, surely, after all these years it shouldn't make a difference what the annual profit is. Mr Miele is unfortunately changing the charm of the neighborhood. The greenhouse is a landmark. For sure, a condo comples will add nothing to the neighborhood. I am very sad that this is happening as are most of the neighbors on the block that i have spoken to. I think we all looked forward to the the beautiful array of color in front of Miele's with each changing season. The police had to direct traffic in front of Miele's at the start of spring, summer and at Christmastime. It will be a sorry day to see the end of our greenhouse.
MARGE HAFFER March 05, 2012 at 11:21 AM
Miele's is Closed . Thanks for the memories , and to CHRIS and MARYELLEN who were the managers Thank You for all the donations over the years to every Eagle Scout, PBA, School, Hospice,Noahs Ark,Girl Scout troops,County park,and every other organization who needed to raise money You guys were always there to support the community......... fyi lou miele had nothing to do with that
George Kurek March 10, 2012 at 10:05 PM
Another great landmark bites the dust. I will miss starting the growing season here with its array of healthy plants and courteous staff. I'll also miss the $75 credit Miele's owes me because I can't redeem a gift certificate I received this past Christmas now that the shop is closed.
Christine Dec April 04, 2012 at 08:41 PM
I'm very sad to see Miele's go. Been buying plants there for over 40 years. Chris and Maryellen and staff were always informative and welcoming. This is a sad day for the planting community.
lipstickcat May 01, 2012 at 04:06 PM
I was just there in december to buy a christmas wreath. Most of the plants in my yard are from Miele's. I've been shopping there for over 20 years & when I went 2 weeks ago & saw it was deserted, I was shocked! If Louis Miele wanted to honor his father & preserve his legacy, he would've sold the business as is, a garden center, not have it demolished & turned into condos! His father must be turning in his grave! Greed took over! I hope the old man is happy making everyone unhappy!
Barbara May 06, 2012 at 03:48 PM
I drive on Lake Avenue all the time. About a month ago it dawned on me that Meile's was so deserted looking. I used to appreciate seeing all the tulips blooming in the front, which was a symbol that spring was just around the corner. It's almost like a death to see such a place close. I've been going to Meile's for years to purchase my spring flowers. My last visit before the winter was in November to purchase a grave blanket. Sure there's Home Depot, etc., but I enjoyed purchasing from my local farm. I even remember that before Meile's got so big they used to have a horse on the property that when my children were little used to love to see. I'm absolutely devastated. Today, was the first day where I actually saw a sign in the driveway indicating flowers could be purchased on Madison Hill Road -- nothing more, nothing less. A very strange closing of a business where nothing more is said, and now to read the plan is to possibly put condos on the property is absolutely devastating. Gone is that small home town feel. Really a shame this has happened for so many of us that live in the area. Barbara
T. August 15, 2012 at 07:46 PM
There are quite a few of you who are I'll informed. Mr Miele is in fact not a greedy man. He rented the greenhouse to his niece and like any other place that you rent if you don't pay you are evicted! He is in poor health and requires 24hour care, do you know the cost of that! He ran a successful business and has worked very hard to maintain a good life! I cannot believe that you can all point your fingers and judge him when you should take a look at what was the downfall of mieles, had Maryellen paid her rent no one would be in this position.

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