THE TOUGH CUSTOMER- No nightstand: Fur flies further in furniture fight

As I reported in my last column ["Unhappy ending: Customer, furniture-seller at odds," May 8], Meghan Pianta emailed me two weeks ago to update me that after almost seven months she still had not received the furniture she ordered from Under the Roof about which I had written in February.

Jeff Grosfeld, Under the Roof's co-owner, was taken aback by Pianta's complaint because, he said, his store and Pianta had agreed upon May 10 as a furniture delivery date, and as far as he knew, all was well.

He also asked that I not write another story about Under the Roof, since mention in my column was "bad press." Following that, Pianta wrote to say she didn't send her previous email "in hopes of stirring up more problems with this situation."

Still, I thought the continuing conflict was illuminating, and I let both Pianta and Grosfeld know I would be writing anyway.

So Grosfeld took matters into his own hands:

He wrote Pianta and me on May 6 to say, "The nightstand arrived in our warehouse from New Jersey this morning as planned.  However, after much consideration, we have decided to refund Ms. Pianta for her entire purchase plus interest. ... We are wondering why she chose to contact the reporter instead of just replying to the email we sent to her or calling us to discuss it if she was dissatisfied with our plan. We were not presented with an opportunity to satisfy her complaint before a reporter was called. We do not consider that a fair way to conduct business."

Grosfeld's decision to pull the rug out from under Pianta at the last minute is tough to fathom. Grosfeld is acting like that temperamental soup vendor from the famous Seinfeld episode– I don't like the way you've acted! No nightstand for you!

His concern that a mention in my column would be bad press was unjustified. While I gently chided the store for using an answering machine during business hours (and was therefore sympathetic to Pianta's frustration), I also was puzzled by her dissatisfaction in light of the agreed-upon delivery date. Further, I said I was "inclined to believe Grosfeld's claims that ... his store has adequately communicated with Pianta, at least since my initial column."

More importantly, though, Pianta and Under the Roof had a seven-month long deal for her to get furniture. Whether Grosfeld believes her getting in touch with me was fair, it clearly did not breach the bargain they had struck, and he's obligated to perform.

Returning her money with interest, while better than nothing, is not performance.

I emailed Pianta to see if she had a comment, but I did not hear back from her, so for all I know, she might not mind at all. That's beside the point.

Two weeks ago, Grosfeld was concerned about a story. Now he's touched off another story.


On a happier note, I heard recently from Brenda Jones, the Fifeville homeowner about whom I wrote last summer. Menacing tree branches from a neighbor's yard hung over Jones' house ["Hello, hello: Tree dispute falls on deaf ears," August 9, 2007]. The property's owner, Eugene Williams' Dogwood Properties, had for years refused to do anything about it, and every one of the city's political leaders had failed to even acknowledge Jones' plea for help.

Three weeks ago, a very happy Jones called to tell me Woodard Properties had purchased the adjoining property and had informed her it would be trimming back the trees.


And last but not least, Attorney General Bob McDonnell announced this week that his office has taken legal action against Instant Cash Title Loans of Charlottesville, the outfit on High Street that lent Estelle Williams $230 at 240 percent annual interest ["240 percent: Why the AG's looking at car loans," January 10, 2008].

At issue is whether Instant Cash properly structured its loan to Williams– and apparently others– as the open-ended credit required to charge the high interest rate. McDonnell's suit alleges it did not.

Although local media reporting on the case declined to note that it was this column that first uncovered the questionable loan, the AG's office noted as much in its press release announcing the action. While I appreciate the recognition, it's more satisfying to simply see the government respond. It renews my faith that we can each make a difference.

 Got a consumer situation? Call the Hook newsroom at 434-295-8700x405 or e-mail the Tough Customer directly.