Persistent flooding washes mother-daughter cookie shop out of the Fillmore

After years of selling cookies online, the mother-daughter duo behind Bumzy’s Chocolate Chip Cookies realized a dream when they secured a brick-and-mortar storefront in the Fillmore’s Webster Square in 2010.

“Bumzy’s is a three generational family business,” said Sheila Harris-Young, co-owner with her daughter Toni “Bumzy” Young of a cookie enterprise that was born out of a family tradition. “My mother taught me, and I taught my daughter how to bake the cookies.”

But after eight years of struggle with persistent flooding inside their store at 1460 Fillmore St., in the Webster Square Office and Retail Center, the entrepreneurs were served with an eviction notice this month from their landlord, Richard Szeto. The notice alleges failure to pay rent after a particularly destructive raw sewage flood last year shuttered their business for nearly 10 months.

“I opened that door and it was six inches of raw sewage floating by me,” said Harris-Young, who acknowledged she stopped paying rent while renovating the store last year in an effort to reopen and continue running their business. She claimed the repairs cost her some $18,000.

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The mother-daughter pair say they are out some $72,000 they have invested in their business, with more than half of that going toward combating flooding that originated in the store’s bathroom, according to Harris-Young, whose troubles have also included water leakage from the ceiling and floor vents.

Over the course of their tenancy, the business has incurred a total of 12 floods — the last occurring as recently as March 29, alleged Harris-Young. “Every time there’s a flood, it’s like starting all over again,” she said.

The flooding destroyed furniture and, in 2016, resulted in the bathroom ceiling caving in, she said. Harris-Young said Bumzy’s has suffered a significant loss in customers over the years due to frequent closures and that she and her mother suffered health problems after mold formed within the shop’s walls.

They are not the only business that claims its been swamped by flooding and maintenance problems at Webster Square, which was acquired by the Szeto family in 1998.

Maria Ng was co-owner of European Cleaners, a laundry service that operated at 1426 Webster St. for 27 years before closing the family business last year.

“We got the flooding for 27 years. We told the landlord — I would scream. But they said, this is commercial property, you guys handle it. They refused to send anybody to clean up,” said Ng.

Ng said the flooding, compounded by other issues that went unaddressed, including loitering, trash and safety concerns at an adjacent Safeway parking lot managed by the Szetos, ultimately forced her out of the area after her lease ended last year.

“People are afraid to come to this parking lot. There is soliciting, the sidewalk is all dirty, on top of that the [sewage] backing up — it was too much,” she said. “This area, they don’t maintain it. It’s displacing businesses.”

Another commercial tenant of the building who requested anonymity said that “there is a mass exodus going on,” and that “a number of businesses down the hall have moved out.”

“Everything is just kind of patched — every week one of the elevators is shut down, and there is no cleaning service. We are expected to clean our own offices,” said the woman, who added that maintenance issues contributed to but are not the sole reason for her organizaton’s impending relocation.

Bumzy’s Chocolate Chip Cookies at 1460 Fillmore St. (Laura Waxmann/S.F. Examiner)

Marianne Thompson, a spokesperson for The City’s Office of Economic and Workforce Development, said Harris-Young reported a flood to the agency in 2014 and that a “neighborhood job squad” was dispatched to work with the landlord around addressing necessary repairs.

“The building owner did what the building owner was supposed to do,” said Thompson, adding that her office was unaware of additional floods at the store. Thompson also pointed out that Bumzy’s received a OEWD grant for facade improvements at 1460 Fillmore St.

Harris-Young said the grant paid for “a blade sign and a frame,” but that she’s had to shoulder all costs of subsequent repairs and cleanups. She said she made repeated pleas to their landlord to hire professionals to decontaminate the shop, to no avail.

The eviction notice adds insult to injury, said Harris-Young, who alleged her landlord knew about sewage flooding at the property before she began her tenancy there, but failed to disclose this to her.

Harris-Young alleges that her landlord blamed her for an initial flood at the store, and later said it was due to a “faulty placement of the pipe.”

The Szetos also own the Webster Towers and other residential and commercial properties throughout The City.

Patrick Szeto, the landlord’s son and owner of American Realty and Construction Inc., referred requests for comment to his attorney, Jonathan Siegel. Siegel said on Thursday that a settlement had been reached in the eviction case, but declined to comment on the flooding and other maintenance issues at the property.

Bumzy’s will have to vacate by July.

“It’s like the Szeto’s shot us in both legs and said, ‘Now go run a marathon,” said Toni Young. “When we entered this space, we came in good faith. They didn’t tell us at the time we signed our lease that this area is prone to flooding. We found out the hard way and it’s cost us in the long run. It’s crippled our business.”

Laura Waxmann
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Laura Waxmann

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