Friday, December 30, 2005

Julian Businesses In Turmoil

SAN DIEGO -- It's a battle that's pitted a lawyer against a town's merchants. The dispute is over disability access in Julian.

At the Bell, Book and Candle Shop in Julian, business is brisk and owner Debbie Hickey couldn't be sadder.

"It's a bittersweet end," said Hickey.

The shop will close its doors next week. Ever since the October wildfires decimated local tourism, the shop's sales have been cut in half -- then the letters came.

She isn't alone. In all, 67 businesses got a letter from San Diego attorney Theodore Pinnock.

Pinnock, who uses a wheelchair, is threatening lawsuits over disability access -- a legal battle Hickey said she just couldn't afford.

"I don't have any fight in me. I've fought to stay in business for the last two years," said Hickey.

Her shop is the first casualty in a brewing war that's consumed a tranquil town full of historic buildings.

In the past months, some shop owners have started getting things up to code. Throughout Julian, disabled access signs are now the most popular in town. They are displayed prominently in storefronts. Most of the businesses named in the letters have banned together for a fight, 10News reported.

They must make the case they're compliant, versus a lawyer known for lawsuits against individual businesses.

Now, he's taking on an entire town, and shop owners worry about where he's going next.

"We just feel like we have to do all we can to stop him," said Pat Richardson, with Enrichments.

The gamble could be a costly one. Shopowners like Richardson said if they lose, money damages against them could also lead them to shut down.

While some shop owners have settled out of court, others vow to fight on.

Pinnock has responded with a class-action lawsuit. He was unreachable for comment with 10News.

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