After 10 years in the retail plaza Canyon Crest Towne Center in Riverside, Calif., Cellar Door Books is seeking a new space. On January 17, Cellar Door owner Linda Sherman-Nurick received email notification from Canyon Crest Management that her month-to-month lease would not be extended and that the store should vacate the premises by February 28.
Sherman-Nurick posted the news to social media early on January 20, announcing that although CCM was “within their legal rights,” they had failed to show “common decency and respect,” and did not allow enough time to re-establish the business elsewhere. “They haven’t told us why” they chose not to continue the lease, Sherman-Nurick told PW. “I certainly can make some educated guesses, especially with what is going on in our country in regard to book banning, CRT craziness, and people uncomfortable with diverse voices and histories.”
Swift outcry from loyal clients followed, with customers linking management’s decision to the store’s progressive politics and a January 14 Drag Queen Story Time. In October 2018, Cellar Door had been the target of a protest during another Drag Queen Story Time, prompting Sherman-Nurick to write an editorial titled “Hate Came to My Bookstore.” Cellar Door celebrates gender diversity and BIPOC identities in its book clubs and events.
Past arrangements with CCM had left Cellar Door vulnerable. In 2016, four years into Cellar Door’s tenancy, Sherman-Nurick renegotiated her lease with then-property manager Mark Thompson. The retail center expected long-term tenants to pay rent plus common area maintenance fees, which Sherman-Nurick realized her bookstore could not afford. She and Thompson agreed on a month-to-month rental, minus the CAM fees. “It was either that or close,” said Sherman-Nurick, but the tenuous lease came to feel like a “punishment” because cancellation required a mere 30 days’ notice.
Thompson died in August 2021, and his son Scott Thompson, who assumed management responsibilities, died nine months later, leaving CCM under interim leadership. As of January 1, new manager Jeffrey W. Lerch took over CCM and reviewed tenants’ contracts.
In a January 20 press release, Lerch wrote, “It seems the Inland Empire is bristling with the news that Cellar Door Books… has been asked to vacate their premises and relocate. Rumors are rampant that the decision from the CCTC ownership and management was politically, racially, or otherwise motivated and tied to Cellar Door Books special events and patrons. In fact, these rumors are completely and totally unfounded and could not be further from the truth.”
Lerch said his duties include “administration of the existing tenancies and leasing inquiries from prospective tenants.” Although “Cellar Door Books was not in default of their lease, had timely paid their rental obligations, and had no outstanding complaints served against them,” CCM had asked them to go: “Their premises will be repurposed for another use as part of a larger strategic initiative.” In the announcement, Lerch added that CCM “has given them until March 31, 2023 to relocate their operations.”
“They did not inform me [of the March 31 extension], but I saw the press release,” Sherman-Nurick said. “I’m glad people’s protests worked.” Friends of Cellar Door are reaching out to her with storefront suggestions, and Sherman-Nurick believes this could be an opportunity for Cellar Door to establish a more accessible Riverside location.