A dispute between neighboring businesses in Optimist Park was made public on Monday, as the owners of the local artist co-op Southern Tiger Collective (STC) took to Instagram to speak out about an incident that occurred on Feb. 10 in which they say thousands of dollars worth of property was damaged or stolen.
STC owners have accused Cathy Tuman, who owns Smelly Cat Coffee House in NoDa and rents warehouse space in the same building that’s home to STC, of destroying thousands of dollars worth of property that was left outside following the collective’s two-year anniversary party on Feb. 9.
In a police report filed on Feb. 10, the artists stated that unknown suspects stole two tents worth $450 total, one of which belonged to the party’s sponsor, the Carolina Equality Festival. They also listed a $2,000 Big Green Egg smoker grill as stolen. That item belonged to Justin Zalewski, a friend of the collective who often cooks at parties hosted in the space.
Listed as damaged in the report were two murals valued at $2,000; a tiger sculpture valued at $3,500; a mural cube frame used for live painting events such as Battle Walls, valued at $1,000; chairs; a clothing rack and a wooden block display. In total, the items damaged amount to more than $9,000.
STC co-founders Alex DeLarge and Dustin Moates told Queen City Nerve they believe Tuman damaged the property because it was blocking the delivery of a large shipment to her loading dock on the morning of Feb. 10. Though there is no surveillance footage or witnesses to the incident, they say that when they first contacted Tuman about it on Feb. 10, she stated that they should have cleaned up their mess and hung up the phone.
For her part, Tuman would not speak directly about the incident, telling Queen City Nerve that she will allow the police to do their job.
“We just were robbed at Smelly Cat,” she stated over text message. “We filed a police report, had camera footage, and let the police handle it. This is what people do. I did not involve social media or print in order to social bully.”
DeLarge said he only publicized the incident because he has not heard anything from the police about the case and Tuman does not return his calls.
Delarge admitted that he and other STC members should have cleaned up the mess from the party on the night it was held, but stated that if Tuman would have contacted him, he would have moved the stuff out of the delivery truck’s way and reimbursed her for any losses her business suffered due to the delay.
He added that the incident has gained the attention of the building owner, and he’s no longer sure that Southern Tiger Collective will have a future in the building, where they currently sublet their space from a neighboring business. Other tenants in the building told Queen City Nerve that issues with the property owner had been ongoing and were not necessarily related to the Feb. 10 incident, and DeLarge confirmed that he has been in arguments with Tuman and other tenants in the past due to parties hosted at the space, marijuana use and other issues.
“We tenants just cannot wait until it’s over,” Tuman said.
As for DeLarge, he says all he wants is to be reimbursed for damaged property, returned the stolen goods and allowed to continue making art. In a final post about the incident on Monday, he wrote: “To be clear: We love our home. We love the community around us. We want to keep doing what we do. We’re not looking to destroy anyone. We’re looking to be compensated for stolen and destroyed property and to be given the same liberty to live our lives that we give our neighbors. If anyone has a much larger warehouse that could serve as our new home we are open to ideas…”
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