The Market at Mountain Village may be approaching its expiration date. Telluride Mountain Village Owner’s Association (TMVOA), the market’s landlord since 2006, filed a lawsuit Wednesday, citing market owner Darin Hill for failure to follow requirements outlined in his amended lease from 2012. “Excessive pricing” and the poor quality of deli items are tops among the market’s failures, according to TMVOA Executive Director Anton Benitez.
He paraphrased the complaints the association has received from the community over the past year, saying, “Their selection is limited and their prices are too high.”
An eviction hearing will be held May 31 at 9 a.m. at the San Miguel County Courthouse.
Benitez added the market might remain in business if certain lease requirements are met and improvements are made, but based on the current lease terms the market is “absolutely” out of compliance.
“I think anything is possible at this time,” he said.
This is nothing new, though. The lease amendment was the result of a pair of notices of default from 2009 and 2010 for failure to provide certain required services and failure to sell goods at “competitive” and “reasonable” prices. Since that time, the market has been required to offer prices that were no more than 7.5 percent higher than Clark’s Market in Telluride. Pricing is tracked based on a 100-item list once a month. But the prices have remained an issue, according to three separate independent audits completed since December 2017.
“The pricing audit showed that the market’s prices, in many instances, were substantially higher for the exact same item at Clark’s in Telluride,” according to a TMVOA news release.
Benitez said TMVOA cannot yet share the reports outlining the pricing discrepancies during the current litigation, but they will be filed as case exhibits prior to the May 31 hearing — making them public documents.
It didn’t take long to notice the price tags for staple items, like a loaf of Sara Lee bread ($3.57) and a gallon of milk ($3.26), while strolling through the market’s aisles Thursday morning. (For comparison, bread and milk at Clark’s were both $3.19; Sara Lee bread was on sale for $2.99 during this reporter’s visit.) The average prices for bread and milk in America are $2.32 and $3.19, respectively, according to Numbeo, an online database that compiles user-contributed data to determine cost of living around the world.
Hot food prices at both Clark’s and the market’s delis were between $8 and $15, depending on the items. The Market at Telluride is not used in measuring the Mountain Village location’s prices, Benitez said.
Elevated grocery prices in mountain towns can be expected to a degree, he added, but there is a “threshold.”
“You’re never going to have prices like Wal-Mart, but you have to be competitive,” he said. (Wal-Mart’s Great Value-brand bread is $1.50 a loaf.)
“When people actually stop shopping at the market because of grocery prices, that hurts Mountain Village,” Benitez said. “It’s unfortunate when we have residents here that say to us, ‘I don’t shop there anymore. I drive down to Clark’s.’ That’s not good. It’s just not a good situation.”
Suggestions for a new market operator have been tossed around — including Whole Foods and City Market — Benitez said, but nothing has been determined. He added TMVOA is “gauging interest levels” from possible purveyors.
“It comes back to what market operator can make it out here,” he said. “We need a grocery store. We want the best quality and the most competitive prices.”
Driving out of town to go grocery shopping, whether it’s down to Telluride or up to Montrose, impacts the environment and affects lifestyle as well, Benitez said.
Other problematic areas and out-of-compliance issues at the market include expired goods, out-of-stock conditions, deli and liquor store hours, and failure to offer or extend the 5 percent locals discount.
TMVOA explained the lawsuit to its members in a prepared statement Wednesday afternoon. Benitez said many people thanked the association for taking the matter seriously. He added he does not grocery shop at the Mountain Village market; he goes to Clark’s if he needs to fill a full order.
The TMVOA Board of Directors unanimously voted in favor of the lawsuit.
“It’s hard to explain to neighbors why they have to drive to Telluride and Clark’s to grocery shop because our market is so inadequate in both quality and selection,” TMVOA Vice Chair Jim Royer said.
The recent TMVOA legal action follows a lawsuit Hill filed against TMVOA April 25, alleging the auditors “cherry picked” 150 additional products that were not part of the 100-item list in “an attempt to fabricate a breach of the lease by arguing that the market was not in compliance” with the lease’s pricing requirement, among other claims.
Market managers and employees declined to comment, deferring to the owner. Hill was not immediately available for comment before press time Thursday afternoon.