BAR HARBOR — Last week, Trailhead Café owners Matthew and Angel Hochman received a 30-day notice to quit the premises of their business.
The couple had been renting space for their Cottage Street café and coffee shop from the nonprofit Criterion Theatre, which owns the building, since 2012.
Matthew Hochman told the Islander that the lease agreement was for ten years, but included an annual option to renew or terminate the lease.
“In past years they’ve always accepted a verbal renewal,” he said.
Hochman said his business is open year-round and has paid the rent late on more than one occasion. “Especially in the winter, it’s been a struggle to get the rent in on time,” he said.
He said his first communication from the Criterion regarding an eviction was when a sheriff’s deputy arrived with the thirty-day notice March 14.
“We’re hoping they’ll change their minds and work with us,” Hochman said. He added that his business does not have an attorney, “and are hoping it doesn’t get to that point.”
He said he and his wife are also “actively looking at other locations” to rent. “We don’t want to close,” he said, “[but] with rents what they are, it’s difficult being a year-round business in Bar Harbor. Winter months can be very quiet.” He said a small business like his may have to choose in the winter “between paying rent, lights, and mortgage.”
Hochman also said he understands that the Criterion “made a business decision. I hope the people don’t take it out on the Criterion, or on their employees.”
But some backlash against the organization has been reported.
A local taxi company reported receiving an email from a customer asking the company to withdraw its financial support of the nonprofit.
The decision to evict the Trailhead Café, the customer wrote, “is quite upsetting for many of us in the Bar Harbor community. I am reaching out to you in the hopes that you will reconsider your support for the theater in light of this.”
Quatrina Truitt Johnson organized a campaign on the online fundraising service Gofundme to help the Hochmans stay in business.
“After suffering from the devastating effects of flood in 2017, the Trailhead has had to struggle to stay afloat financially,” Truitt wrote. “Even in the midst of their difficult times, Matt and Angel Hochman have continued to provide for their community.”
With eviction papers served, Truitt asked the public for donations “to make sure they have the financial support they need to navigate this process and review all of the options available to them.”
As of press time the campaign had raised $6,474 of its $17,500 goal.
Hochman, who is a town councilor, said at Tuesday’s council meeting, “As a lot of you know, it’s been a pretty tough week for my family, and the outpouring of support from the community is exactly why I’m proud to sit up here. …I want to give my heartfelt thanks to everybody in this community.”
Requests for comment from representatives of the Criterion Theatre were not returned by press time.