CLAUDY PIERRE, operator of Arnold’s Tea on the North Side.
by Christian Morrow, Courier Staff Writer
The bad news last month was that Arnold’s Tea, operated by “Chef” Claudy Pierre, was going to close because the landlords were going to terminate his lease. The good news this month, October, is that an online petition started by Leeann Younger to garner support for him and influence landlords appears to have worked—for now.
“The Northside is better with Arnold’s as a part of the community and we’ve generated this petition to let the landlords know that we want to keep Arnold’s open!” the online petition read. And within five days it had 3,206 signatures.
The petition was presented to the board of the Historic Deutschtown Development Committee (HDDC) on Sept. 26 and has earned Arnold’s a reprieve. Pierre has 90 days to, as HDDC President Barbara Burns told the New Pittsburgh Courier, “strengthen his business and become a better tenant.”
“I’m glad people took an interest and signed the petition, and they should come over and patronize his place,” Burns said. “I like the guy. I hope it gives him the structure and an opportunity to create a new day with us. We’re rooting that he gets it together. We’re not trying to pick on him. We’re trying to be helpful, but he does have to meet his obligations. A year of not paying rent on time is not doing that.”
According to testimony at a Sept. 4 magistrate’s hearing, between taking over the business from its founder, Verna Arnold, in October 2018 and the beginning of September 2019, Pierre had been “delinquent in every month for a year, and was now more than three months delinquent on rent, late fees and water bills.”
At that hearing the HDDC was awarded two judgments—payment by Pierre of the past due rent and judgement of possession of the space where Arnold’s Tea is located (502 E. Ohio St.).
On Sept. 11, all parties met and Pierre paid all the past due bills, and thus was allowed to stay open, provided he stayed current on the rent and also complied with strictures regarding the storage and disposal of trash.
Effectively, Pierre is on a “probation period” over the next 90 days, as Pierre described it to the New Pittsburgh Courier in an Oct. 1 interview.
“We’re not going to let anything stop us,” Pierre said. “The goal is to stay here. We’re a community asset and we would hope that there would be some leniency because (HDDC) is a community organization.”
Pierre, 34, who’s originally from Brooklyn, said he’s been an open book from the beginning—he’s had some problems paying the $2,800 monthly rent and water bills. But after paying thousands of dollars in mid-September to the landlord, Pierre feels he’s on the right track to paying the rent on time and staying in business at Arnold’s for the foreseeable future.
“We’re going to be here for a very long time,” Pierre told the Courier. “These minor setbacks are an opportunity for us to grow and really learn from the things that have happened and really get better. We’re open with the fact that we’ve had challenges as a minority business, but we’ve worked hard to be a community asset.”
Pierre said going forward, support from the community is as easy as frequenting Arnold’s Tea more and purchasing some of the popular items for sale. And, if you’re an organization looking to hold a meeting, have it at Arnold’s, with the group financially supporting the shop with purchases.
“We’re working, were not going to allow any of the negative thoughts to hurt us,” Pierre, now a Pittsburgh resident for 16 years, told the Courier.
Burns said the HDDC has assigned its residential property manager—who works with the tenants upstairs from Arnold’s—to work with Pierre as well. She said Pierre is also working with Riverside Center for Innovation Executive Director Juan Garrett.
“That should be very helpful,” she said. “We will now have a professional property manager working with him. They can go through the lease thoroughly, so there is clarity about what his obligations are…if there is something he needs addressed.”
Pierre’s patrons were pleased to hear the business was not closing at this time. With its quiet, rustic atmosphere, popular sandwiches and 44 varieties of tea, it’s an island of calm on a busy East Ohio Street on the North Side, where people socialize, hold meetings and work outside the office.
“It’s laid back and conducive to the kind of work we do,” said Solomon Armstead, a trainer for Adagio Health, who was working on an educational presentation with co-worker Tanisha Price.
“I heard about what was going on—and it seemed like bullying to me, like there might be someone on-deck to take over,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I’m here. I want to be supportive.”
Kay Shabbaz said she just started a job nearby, so has only recently started coming in—but knew about Arnold’s before that.
“I’m excited about it because I’m a tea drinker—I don’t do coffee. So this is great,” she said.
Another patron, who said he’d prefer to remain anonymous due to the nature of his work, said he’s known Pierre for some time and was glad to hear the eviction had been staved off.
“I have nothing but love for that young man,” he said. “My take is that people over here are afraid of change—but Starbucks started like this. You don’t want to run out small businessmen, especially a young Black man who’s trying to do something positive for the neighborhood. And there’s a diverse crowd here—it’s good to see that.”
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