Riverside won't renew lease for Soul Amici Express at train station

Business owners unable to pay sky-high property taxes

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By Bob Uphues


A coffee shop/catering business that has called the Riverside train station home for the past three years will close its doors for good on Dec. 31.

Riverside's village board has decided not to renew its lease with Soul Amici Express, said Village Manager Peter Scalera, because the business has not been able to repay two years' worth of property taxes on the 710-square-foot space.

"The village hates to lose any business, but the board felt it was their responsibility to protect the taxpayers of Riverside and avoid any further burden of the outstanding debt being placed on the residents," said Scalera.

The owners of the business, Lynn and Anthony DiGianfilippo, say they don't want to leave Riverside, but that they got little help from the village in trying to solve the issue of the unpaid taxes — which is an enormous sum for a business so small.

When the DiGianfilippos signed their first lease with the village, the contract called for them to pay the property taxes for the commercial space in the train station at 90 Bloomingbank Road. The way it worked was the village would pay the taxes and then bill Soul Amici Express for reimbursement.

At the time, it didn't seem like a big problem. A real estate office had been located in the space, and the property taxes were between $1,500 and $2,300. In addition, the village was charging them $1,000 per month and a $4,000 special event fee. The DiGianfilippos gutted the old office space and created the café area and kitchen, making sure the design fit in with the historic character of the train station.

Soul Amici Express opened on Dec. 4, 2009 and the tax bill in 2010 (for taxes assessed in 2009) was $1,456. The two sides inked a new two-year contract for the space on Jan. 18, 2010.

The contract called for Soul Amici Express to pay the property taxes unless they went up more than 5 percent in any one year. In that case, the village would pay the difference. But the contract called for the baseline for the property assessment to be the 2010 tax year, payable in 2011.

When the county reassessed the property in 2010, the tax bill the village received was a jaw-dropper.

Because of the improvements made to the space and the fact that the new business was retail and not service-oriented, the bill for the tiny space skyrocketed to $10,230, an increase of more than 600 percent. In 2011, the taxes increased again to $10,922.

That's a lot of cups of coffee.

Even adding the catering business and hosting large events for local organizations, there was no way for the DiGianfilippos to cover the taxes. When the village asked the business to reimburse it for the taxes, the DiGianfilippos wanted options.

According to Scalera, they were told to contact Cook County.

"We told them they needed to appeal the taxes," Scalera said.

While they were in favor of appealing the taxes, the DiGianfilippos wanted help from the village. After all, said Lynn DiGianfilippo, "We don't own the building. The village does."

Scalera said the village directed the DiGianfilippos to Riverside Township Assessor Fran Sitkiewicz, who said she helped them navigate the appeals process with the Cook County Board of Review.

"It's such a unique property that it's tough to get comparables," said Sitkiewicz. "I know the Board of Review suggested they get an appraisal done, but that costs a lot of money. For a small business, it's kind of a Catch 22."

Sitkiewicz said that in August she was contacted by analysts from the Board of Review, suggesting that some sort of deal might be in the works. However, the board's website indicates that an appeal was never officially filed.

"We hoped we could work it out from within, and we could all mutually come to some conclusion, but unfortunately it didn't happen," said Tony DiGianfilippo.

In addition to directing the DiGianfilippos to the township, Scalera said the village gave them extra time to reimburse it for the taxes.

"I don't know what else the village could have done," said Scalera, who added that the owner of the barber shop in the station has filed appeals for his taxes on his own in the past.

"[The DiGianfilippos] have done a lot for the community, and Lynn and Tony are very good people," said Scalera. "We hate to see that they're going to be leaving."

Lynn DiGianfilippo is also disappointed to be leaving town.

"For the clients we had, we want to extend our heartfelt thanks," she said. "It's disheartening to us to have to leave, but it wasn't our choice."

Once the coffee shop leaves the space, the village will seek to have the Board of Review re-classify the property as vacant in order to bring the property taxes back down.

Scalera said that finding a new tenant for the space will be tough, if the property taxes remain so high.

"It'll be challenging, but hopefully we'll be able to find a use that will fit with the building and work with the assessor in regard to that plan," Scalera said.


Email: buphues@wjinc.com Twitter: @RBLandmark

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Reader Comments

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Comment Policy

Christopher FitzHenry Robling from Riverside, Illinois  

Posted: December 31st, 2012 7:39 AM

How can this be? Soul Amici Express has been a stellar contribution to Riverside. Perhaps this sad end will raise the importance of recruiting businesses for the new board. Thank you, Soul Amici Express, for your service and also for providing tasty gluten-free baked goods. Much appreciated.

Supermex from Tinley Park  

Posted: December 28th, 2012 4:09 PM

Sounds to me that Riverside didn't realize the effect of someone improving the space, then tried to pawn the responsibilty onto the owners. Great way to treat a small business Riverside! Hey, Tinley Park' is looking for someone to operate their cafe spot in the newly built train station, perhaps the owners should look into moving south, we're very welcoming to small businesses that are also willing to be involved with the community.

Consider this  

Posted: December 27th, 2012 10:14 AM

It did not take much to find out that a similar business space in town on Burlington also paid around $10,000 in real estate taxes in 2009 and 2010. While this does seem like a rather large tax bill for a coffee shop why would Soul Amici think their real estate tax bill should be less? Soul Amici did contribute a lot to our community as do most of the small businesses in town. I'm sorry to see them go. They have good food.

Robert from New Orleans  

Posted: December 26th, 2012 8:26 PM

J has a good point. Is it possible to turn the train station property be converted to a church and become tax exempt? This church could sell coffee and snacks to its masses.

Kathleen from riverside  

Posted: December 26th, 2012 6:23 PM

It really is so disgusting how there are no small businesses left and how they are not supported by Riverside. Someone needs to look closely at what is happening with all the tax money that people are paying there. Why does it cost thousands for property taxes yet there is NOTHING for residents and businesses. Its like a ghost town!!! Very disappointing indeed!!

Four Words  

Posted: December 26th, 2012 5:45 PM

Gorman-Satchii- Reynolds-Shevits

Cindy O'Keefe from Brookfield  

Posted: December 26th, 2012 5:07 PM

For 2010, Soul Amici can still file a certificate of error to try having the taxes reduced. Sounds like when they "inked" the deal the taxes were misrepresented as being reduced for income or vacancy.

M. from Riverside  

Posted: December 26th, 2012 1:12 PM

When the shop leaves the space, the village is going to go through the effort to reclassify the property to bring down the taxes. But they won't go through the effort to help the current owners. Chalk up another vacant business space. Speaking of empty space, good thing the village put in the parking lot on Burlington for the overwhelming amount of business we get in town.

C from Riverside  

Posted: December 26th, 2012 1:04 PM

This is RIDICULOUS. The Village owns the building, yet they had the DiGianfilippo's do the tax appeal?? Bad form. Bad for the village, bad for business. We as members of this community should be ashamed of how small business owners are treated by our holy Board. Time for change, folks.

P from Kennesaw   

Posted: December 26th, 2012 12:07 PM

That's the Village of Riverside, driving out small business.

J. from Riverside  

Posted: December 26th, 2012 11:46 AM

With taxes that high, the space will probably be empty for another 5 years. All the large retailers get multi-year tax breaks to move into the area (Costco for example), but a small business that filled a long vacant spot in the village gets the shaft.

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