By Carol McCracken (Post # 1,996)
“I know I’m in violation of the city’s rules, but I’ll take that chance. I’m open for business,” said Matt DiBenedetto, a co-owner of the House of Jerky, 13 Exchange Street in the Old Port this afternoon. “I could be fined up to $500. a day for being open but I need to be,” he said. With a Memorial Day weekend here and a delayed opening, DiDenedetto and his business partner are anxious to get some revenue under their belts for what has been an expensive non-opening in Portland’s high rent district – and particularly a property of the notorious Joe Soley, who has been at logger heads with the City for years over the mismanagement of his Old Port properties – this time the city may have him where they want him,
Last year a major fire erupted in a block of Joe Soley property in the Old Port along Fore Street. Businesses were closed – some are still closed. The owner of Mark’s Place, a college drinking oasis, recently told mhn.com that he hopes to reopen in the next several months. City fire officials found that an inferior part of the heating system was the cause of the fire – business neighbors have long claimed that Soley uses cheap replacement parts with repairmen unqualified to do the repairs. Street & Co. restaurant was the first to be up and running following that fire, although other businesses have not survived that fire. The Dancing Elephant remains closed.
Earlier this week, the Jerky owner, was told by the city’s “Fire Marshall” it could not open its doors because Joe Soley’s entire building did not meet the city’s fire code for sprinkler system requirements. Furthermore, the City is considering closing down the entire block of Soley property because of his non-compliance with city code according to DiBenedetto. Once source close to Soley said the city wouldn’t dare shut him down because Soley would sue the city “out of business.” Because of that the Jerky House could not open, although it is ready for business. Really ready. There has been at least one meeting between the stressed DiBenedetto and city officials. DiBenedetto has been trying to get the city to open up his storefront in time for the Memorial Day weekend. The City refuses to budge. However, Jerky has been selling its products since at least yesterday and possibly earlier in the week even though a “closed” sign on the door has been in place some of the time. The House of Jerky has hired an attoney John P. McVeigh, Esq. of PrettiFlaherty, although DiBenedetto was reluctant to name his attorney.
Meanwhile, Soley has maintained his usual belligerent stance on the situation; apparently refusing to commit himself to making the necessary improvements to his rental properties on Exchange Street that would permit the Jerky House to open up, legally. Soley told mhn.com that Mayor Brennan gave the business permission to open up and so has he. The owners maintain they are loosing many thousands of dollars worth of business during this shutdown by the city. “We shouldn’t have to be a hostage of the city,” DiBenedetto has said repeatedly.
Matt DiBenedetto, spokesperson for the Old Port House of Jerky store, is the owner of the North Conway New Hampshire, House of Jerky. He said he is looking at other possible storefronts in New Hampshire. There are 28 venues around the country who carry this brand of Jerky, although they are not franchises or owned by DiBenedetto or his business partner.
The Mole, a former tenant of Soley’s said recently: “Local business people know not to rent from him. They try to avoid him at all costs. When there is a vacancy elsewhere, they move quickly. It’s too bad that people not from the area don’t have access to this information.” Soley who owns the Clark’s Pond property in South Portland recently lost at least several of its tenants. Marshall’s and Bob’s Furniture are moving to a new location in Scarborough according to a source in the real estate business. The Mole who was introduced last year has been underground during the cold winter months, but just emerged for this article. If it doesn’t warm up soon, he said he may go back underground until it does – of course with his favorite local brew and maybe even some turkey jerky.