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East Atlanta in rift over vacant buildings

Business owners take strong claims to the Strut

East Atlanta business and civic leaders are trying to defuse a messy local controversy before it threatens to tarnish their neighborhood's image as Atlanta's latest nexus of cool.

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At this past weekend's East Atlanta Strut street festival, the emerging rift was put on full display by Michael Knight and Shawn Ergle, owners of the Traders housewares and furniture store. The two spent much of the day handing out fliers, gathering signatures on petitions and selling "Slumlord" stickers as part of a frontal attack on one of the area's chief landowners. Their position is that the former John B. Gordon school and other vacant buildings owned by Inman Park Properties, a real estate and development firm run by entrepreneur Jeff Notrica, are dragging down East Atlanta's retail district.

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"As long as property sits vacant, it gives the impression that East Atlanta is going downhill, that nobody wants to open a business here, and that makes people not want to come here to shop," says Knight, who says his store's sales have dipped in the past year.

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Karen Liss, co-owner of the Sabra Gallery and president of the nascent East Atlanta Business Association, says that while some believe Knight and Ergle are giving voice to an inconvenient truth, their combative approach is counterproductive.

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"Yes, Jeff needs to do some painting and landscaping work on his vacant property, but he's also given a lot back to this community and I want to remain able to work with him," she says.

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Don Bender, another major landowner, says he, too, is concerned about boarded-up buildings, although he does not single out Notrica for blame. "Businesses are reluctant to come into an area that suffers from neglect and customers don't like to walk past boarded-up buildings," Bender says.

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Notrica would not comment for this story, but maintains that he does not own many of the properties the Traders duo claims he does.



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