Uni-Mart, Choice Cigarette Stores Run Dry

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Uni-Mart, Choice Cigarette Stores Run Dry

LOCK HAVEN, Pa. -- A number of Uni-Mart operators in the area seem to be running into hard times, as at least five Uni-Mart convenience stores and Choice Cigarette Discount Outlet stores appeared to close at the end of business Saturday, after emptying its shelves and gas tanks, reported The Express.

Residents were seen filling their tanks with gas that was discounted as much as 25 cents per gallon, to $2.44, until the tanks at two stores ran dry, the report stated.

The move was unexpected to residents in the area. No signs were posted notifying customers about the possible closing at a Lock Haven, Pa. store, nor was there notice on the company's Web site -- www.Uni-Mart.com.

However, the stores are not closed, according to company founder and co-chairman, Henry Sahakian, who spoke with CSNews Online. He said that letting the merchandise empty from shelves and allowing gas tanks to run dry was the dealer's choice, but the stores were not closed and he did not know why it had occurred.

Calls to four of the Uni-Mart locations that were listed in the newspaper as being closed -- Lock Haven, Avis, Jersey Shore and Beech Creek, Pa. -- were not answered.

The relation of these actions to a current lawsuit against the company is unknown. CSNews Online reported in January that 40 owners of about 70 Uni-Mart stores filed a suit against the company for fraud and breach of contract, claiming the company and its real estate and financial firms misled them about operating costs and profitability.

The civil suit also named Chicago-based NRC Realty Advisors LLC and Edison, N.J.-based Kuber Financial Services LLC. It also alleged that Uni-Mart "engaged in a wide range of wrongful conduct that has gravely damaged plaintiffs."

The 40 owners purchased their stores during 2004 and 2005, when the company put up 250 of its 276 convenience stores for sale through NRC Realty Advisors LLC, which coordinated the sale.

According to the lawsuit, the owners claim Uni-Mart provided misleading information about critical costs to operate the stores, misstating or neglecting to mention how much payroll, maintenance, taxes and insurance would be.

The company also allegedly overcharged owners for gasoline, in violation of agreements, and the defendants even prohibited the owners from contacting personnel at stores they were considering purchasing, the suit states.

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, the company acquired 28 stores from BP in the Youngstown, Ohio, market through Matrix Capital Markets Group, Inc., which assisted the transaction.

The deal brought the number of locations that Uni-Mart operated to 288 across Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio.