It sounded like a good idea when Jeremy Nunn announced plans in late 2015 for a new consignment store in downtown Mount Airy.
Nunn, 30, a Stokes County native who claimed to have operated similar shops in Texas, sought to stock Second Chances Retail and Consignment with a wide array of items such as art, furniture and jewelry.
He pledged to donate the profits generated by the business at 194 N. Main St. to 12 local charitable and other organizations.
But in fast-forwarding through the coming months, no such profits materialized. Also, the recent abrupt closing of the store has resulted in people who placed property there for sale losing it, leaving owners of the building the business occupied to pick up the pieces.
And perhaps the worst part for those allegedly victimized is that authorities are unable to file any charges as a result, according to Mount Airy Police Chief Dale Watson.
“At this point, no,” Watson said earlier this month of that prospect, which is due to laws regulating consignment shops that treat such cases as civil, rather than criminal, matters.
“I guess you’d say it’s in the details,” the police chief added in discussing what occurred with Second Chances and the apparent leeway consignment store operators have in laying claim to property left there.
In dealing with consignment stores, owners of goods, or vendors, agree to have their items displayed in what is typically a high-traffic location. In exchange for that visibility and a potentially quick sale, the proceeds are split between the store and property owners — which was to be on a 50-50 basis in Second Chances’ case.
While such shops typically offer a wide range of products, the most important currency can be the trust vendors place in an operator to safeguard their interests — which those who dealt with Second Chances believe was grossly violated.
“He had everybody fooled,” said a Mount Airy woman who estimates she left at least $2,500 worth of items in Nunn’s store, in addition to paying him $200 to rent vendor space there. Nunn also agreed to display some of her goods in the front window of the establishment.
“He took advantage of everyone who brought their things there,” she continued. “They trusted him and he pulled the rug out from underneath them.”
A cell phone number Nunn distributed when opening the store is no longer in service.
Setup seemed “perfect”
The woman losing property, who works as a nurse, declined to be identified in print regarding what happened with Nunn. “I really don’t want to use my name (publicly) ‘cause I’m afraid of him,” she explained.
However, the local resident said she wanted to share her story — as one of at least 20 people apparently victimized — to avoid anyone else suffering the same heartache, since she’s heard Nunn has plans to open another store in the area.
The consignment store arrangement was appealing when the woman first encountered Nunn around the first of this year.
“My sister and I both went up there, and he told us the story about how he was going to give the profits to charity,” she recalled. “I just believed everything he said and I thought, ‘This is great.’”
The opportunity with Second Chances Retail and Consignment seemed tailor-made for her, said the alleged victim, who already had items for sale at Mayberry Antique Mall. However, since that business deals in only vintage goods, she had nowhere to display other property on hand — until the new store emerged.
“So we thought this was perfect,” the nurse said of her and her sister’s reaction at the time.
“I had paintings, clothes, purses, shoes,” the woman added of the property she left at Second Chances. Also included was a masthead from a ship that she said would later play a key role in revealing Nunn’s character.
Yet her initial assessment was “he was a good person,” the woman admits of the store operator. “I left stuff there under the impression he was a nice guy.”
This would sour as winter gave way to spring.
The woman grew concerned about the store not being open regularly, supposedly due to some problem with the building.
After being alarmed about the welfare of her property, she contacted a local businessman who is an owner of the building Nunn was renting. That person was reluctant to let her inside because Nunn still maintained occupancy.
“Some things I had in the window were gone,” she related, including the ship masthead containing a figure of a female.
“She’s beautiful and she’s very, very old,” the owner described of the collectible the Mount Airy resident had been bought in Hillsville, Virginia, for $700.
At one point, the woman learned the masthead had been moved to another business downtown where it was being offered at a price of $600. “Jeremy had stolen it,” she charged.
Not wanting to tip her hand, the woman had some friends contact Nunn by email offering to pay $575 for the masthead, which she said Nunn was agreeable to — but “he must have smelled a rat, ‘cause he never showed” to complete the transaction.
The property owner said Nunn would not return her phone calls, and she also had been exchanging text messages with him, the last time in late April, She had warned Nunn that “a big legal mess” could result as part of her efforts to recoup her valuables.
As it turned out, “all my stuff is gone,” the woman said of Nunn apparently packing up items in the store and leaving.
Building owners hurt
One of the owners of the building housing Second Chances Retail and Consignment, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it appeared Nunn had absconded with the most-valuable items in the store.
“He was selling it and evidently keeping the money,” he said of how Nunn operated before moving out in April.
“And that was the last I’ve seen from him,” the building owner said. “At that time, of course, he was behind on his rent and power bills.” This was after the rent for November and December was donated to Nunn in light of the worthy cause he was championing.
Nunn didn’t take everything — which has caused problems, too. “He left an entire store full of stuff,” the owner said of consignment items that were abandoned.
The building ownership then was faced with the unenviable task of trying to get the property back to those to which it belonged.
“The store is cleaned out now — we’ve got what’s left in storage, because we need to get the building back in shape” said the owner who commented on the situation. “We moved what’s left to another facility.”
At last report in late May, that process was progressing. “We’ve got most of it back to its owners — now we don’t have that much left to get back,” said the owner. “But it was significant.”
The store space was still vacant as of Wednesday afternoon. The building owners estimate their loss at about $3,000, counting the unpaid rent, cleanup costs and other expenses.
Meanwhile, the local woman who lost property said that when she reported it to city police, an officer told her that the case was a civil matter. That’s due to a legal loophole allowing consignment store owners to claim and sell items left after a certain time as abandoned property, she learned
The police chief said law enforcement is in a bind with such situations.
“There is a fine line…between what is civil and what is criminal,” Watson said, adding that the Seconds Chances matter offers a lesson to others.
“I would caution anyone who enters into an obligation or contractual arrangement to read the fine print.”
The female vendor said another person was at the police station at the same time she made her complaint with similar issues; he had left tools and old signs at the consignment shop.
She said the police officer advised her to make a list of property taken for an official report so the loss can be recovered through her tax filing.
“I’m really disappointed,” she said.
“It’s really a bad situation for everyone,” the building owner agreed.
“He (Nunn) really took advantage of a lot of people — it wasn’t just me, his vendors really took a hit, too,” he added.
“I’m just ready to move on — lesson learned by me.”
Those involved say the biggest victim might be the next legitimate business person who seeks to open a consignment store.
“We trusted him, and that’s on us,” the building owner said of Nunn.
“But the next person to come along is going to have to do a lot more to prove themselves than he did, which is unfortunate.”
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.