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Not Up in Smoke?

Whatever smoke shop says they’re not moving; Southern Meat Market unsure.

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After University District residents delivered a stern message of "not lovin' it" to McDonald's regarding the fast-food chain's plans to build a restaurant at Southern and Highland, they seem to have pulled their plans to purchase that property.

Now, a man who told the Flyer he simply goes by Mr. Z and owns the Highland Z Market and other convenience stores around the city, is attempting to purchase the property at Southern and Highland. And he says, if the deal closes, the building's current tenants will be allowed to stay.

"It's going to be remodeled, and if someone wants to stay, they can stay," Mr. Z said.

Whatever smoke shop owner Gary Geiser says he plans to stay in the building where his store has been since 1971. He even held a celebration sale last week, but he says he won't know for certain if he can stay until Mr. Z closes on the property.

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"The problem is we don't know what is going to happen with this," Geiser said.

Southern Meat Market owner Randy Stockard isn't so sure he'll stick around no matter what happens with the building. Both men have been renting other storefronts for months just in case they have to move, and Stockard is considering moving to a new location on Park Avenue near Pete & Sam's, where he's been paying rent since January.

"I'm already paying rent on Park, but it would take me another month or two to get out of here. I started thinking about staying, but I don't know. I'd probably do better on Park because of visibility," Stockard said.

Geiser has a back-up plan too. He's been paying $3,000 a month in rent for a location at 555-557 S. Highland, the old Double Deuce Dance Hall, since November 2012.

"We first heard about [McDonald's trying to purchase the building] in September 2012, and we heard we only had two months to move. So like idiots, we rented space on the Highland strip," Geiser said.

Geiser said, if they are allowed to stay put, they'll turn the space on the Highland strip into office/warehouse space and another retail store of some kind. He said they're also planning to open another smoke shop in town soon.

After hearing of the McDonald's plan, the owners of the Super Submarine Sandwich Shop (better known as the "Chinese sub shop"), which was located next door to Whatever, quickly relocated into an old Captain D's on Summer Avenue. Safeway Wholesale and Supply relocated a block away. Now their former locations are boarded up.

"I wish the sub shop lady hadn't left," Geiser said.

Business owners said they first learned of the potential McDonald's sale in 2012 through rumors, and only after numerous calls to their property manager, Palmer Brothers Inc., did they learn they'd have to move. It sounded like a done deal.

But after University District residents petitioned against McDonald's plans for a loop-around drive-thru that didn't comply with the University District Overlay, an official set of standards that regulates all construction in the area, and the Office of Planning and Development rejected the site plan, McDonald's withdrew its request for approval by the Land Use Control Board.

Calls to Palmer Brothers for comment were not returned by press time.

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