Retired music professor Joe Moreno, who filed a civil complaint against the store late last year, joined the list of litigants against owners Len Faucher and Sarma Taylor shortly before they closed up shop and apparently left Santa Fe. Moreno has been awaiting payment since November 2010 for a piano he consigned to the store with the agreement that he would collect $2,500 if it sold.
After the instrument sold in November, Faucher told Moreno repeatedly he would send a check, according to court documents filed by Moreno and a voice mail message from a man identifying himself as Faucher that Moreno saved and played for SFR. Ultimately, all Moreno received was a $100 check that was supposed to be the first of many installment payments, but the check bounced.
“Basically, he stole my piano,” Moreno says.
Santa Fe Music and Piano’s Cordova Road location was the last of several the business called home. Weingarten Realty has never collected on a stipulated judgment finding Faucher’s partner Taylor owed more than $55,000 for non-payment of rent on a DeVargas Center storefront. In a previous statement to SFR, Taylor claimed Weingarten refused to negotiate a more manageable rental rate with the store after Taylor complained that the mall wasn’t complying with Santa Fe’s smoking ban. A woman in the legal department at Weingarten who refused to give her name tells SFR that failing to collect on a civil judgment is not unusual.
Usual or not, Santa Fe landlord Frank Yu finds his inability to collect on a $70,000 judgment against SFMP very frustrating.
“It’s put me in a severe financial bind,” Yu says. “I’m supposed to collect all that money and, basically, even though they didn’t pay the rent, I still got to pay my stuff …my obligation continues and they just ditched theirs.”
Taylor signed two five-year leases with Yu for two spaces, one on Cerrillos Road and one on San Felipe Avenue. In a June 2009 response to Yu’s civil complaint, Taylor wrote SFMP had “just enough revenue to pay salaries” but Faucher would consider entering into a new lease with Yu for a new business venture if Yu didn’t proceed with the lawsuit. Later, she offered Yu a Baldwin grand piano she claimed was worth $8,995. Yu’s attorney replied that the offer to defer a small amount of the debt with a rebuilt piano was “one that Mr. Yu and I are not in a position to evaluate or accept,” according to court documents.
“[Taylor’s] husband Len would even call me and say, ‘Frank, we will still be your tenant even though we’re not using the space anymore, and then we’ll keep on paying the rent even though we sublease it out or just pay out of it,’” Yu says. “That just never happened.”
Taylor and Faucher actually did sublease to a Santa Fe business called Boomerang Baby. Owner JC Linson tells SFR that Yu approached him at one point to ask if he was paying Taylor and Faucher his $2,450 monthly because they never paid Yu from those funds. When Linson’s company vacated the space, Taylor and Faucher wouldn’t relinquish his $3,675 deposit, he tells SFR.
“It’s so sad that they would do that,” Linson says.
Hearing the couple was poised to file bankruptcy, Linson decided not to file suit. Taylor and Faucher’s most recent known lawyer, Marina Cordova, said she was not aware of them filing bankruptcy, though she stopped representing them when the store closed.
“They have a passion for music and that’s why they opened a music and piano store—in order to serve the Santa Fe community,” Cordova says. “Given the state of the economy, it was unfortunate and they had to close down their business. They fully intended on continuing to pay [people they owe money to].”
Other New Mexico musical instrument retailers confirm that times have been tough on the industry, especially for sales of high-end instruments such as pianos. Kevin Bender of Albuquerque started up Grumpy’s Guitars and Stuff last summer after his employer Encore Music went under.
“The economy itself was really doing a number,” Bender said of Encore’s demise. “And I’m sure that pieces of musical equipment like pianos, which are, No. 1, a high-end piece—you can’t just go out and buy a $100 piano. The same with the vintage-grade guitars and stuff like that. These are high-priced and the only way people are able to afford them are 1. the economy’s good and 2. they’ve got the extra money.”
Bender also said negative word-of-mouth can be the death knell for a musical instrument retailer.
“In the musical instrument business, [reputation] is everything because musicians are, I don’t want to say inbred, but we interact with each other,” Bender says. “You treat one musician well and 40 other musicians come in.”
Gillian Sutton, owner of Los Alamos radio station KRSN, found out just how powerful the musicians’ grapevine is when she aired two advertising spots for SFMP.
“They have a fairly nasty reputation up here, so they didn’t get a whole lot of response, except I had several people ask me why on earth I would advertise them,” Sutton says.
Sutton had to take SFMP to court to get the $1,177 they owed for the ads because the couple claimed they were never aired. She tells SFR she believes their negative reputation in Los Alamos stems from the rumored “non-delivery of some grand pianos for a concert several years ago.” Members of the concert group rumored to be the victim in that alleged fiasco didn’t return a call for comment.
There was also a less-than-harmonious relationship between SFMP and at least two former employees. Larry Porter, a tuner and repairman, says he quit after the couple reneged on salary agreements.
“Everything I was told was basically lies,” he says.
Taylor sued a former band instrument repairman, Jason Jimos, after he filed for unemployment. She claimed that he damaged an $11,000 flute while demonstrating it at an event called “Flute-O-Rama” and fired him on the spot when the damage was discovered. The Department of Labor (now Department of Workforce Solutions) found that Jimos was entitled to unemployment because Taylor could produce no evidence that Jimos caused the damage.
But former employee Paul Darin, who worked for SFMP between 2004 and 2006, says the couple treated him well and compensated him fairly.
Moreno’s efforts to have the couple served at their last known Santa Fe residence have been unsuccessful. Linson tells SFR he believes the pair relocated to Albuquerque, where Faucher started the videoconferencing business he had hoped to open in Yu’s rental space. Although a website for that business exists, the phone number for it is disconnected. A private investigator helping Moreno told him he believes the couple moved to Waltham, Mass., but the couple couldn’t be reached at the number the PI provided.
As recently as January, Faucher appears to have updated a blog chronicling his alleged persecution by a national office-supply chain. On it, Faucher claims the company bought out his previous business franchise through an underhanded deal with his ex-wife and estranged family