Franchisee Locks Horns With Sunoco

A 42-year-old Sunoco franchise owner has camped out in his Cambridge, Mass., gas station for the past week, sleeping on a lawn chair or in his car to fend off what he says are attempts by Sunoco to board up his shop and oust him from a lease the company says he’s repeatedly violated, The Boston Herald reported.

The owner, Jamil Balaghi, has filed a federal lawsuit against Sunoco. He said he’s already stopped two attempts to close his business, the newspaper reported online.

One incident occurred Tuesday when Sunoco representatives showed up to measure his garage doors for boards they said would be nailed in place to finally close his shop.

A Lebanese immigrant and co-franchisee of the station for the past 10 years, Balaghi said the Sunoco reps left only after he threatened to call police if they didn’t come back with a formal eviction notice from the city.

The report continued:

Earlier this year, he said Sunoco personnel actually wrapped his shop in plastic, temporarily trapping him inside until he ripped his way out.

“I have a great reputation, but they want me out,” Balaghi said, asserting Sunoco is putting pressure on him and other franchisees to give up their businesses so the corporation can take over.

Appearing tired and unshaven yesterday, Balaghi said Sunoco has even used his pending divorce from his wife, the franchise’s co-owner, as an excuse for terminating his lease.

His wife, Maria Sonin, said Sunoco has “extremely one-sided relationships” with franchise holders, who she says must pay extravagant fees and other expenses for their right to the Sunoco association.

The standoff between Sunoco and the couple is evident in the signs quoting gas at $3.99 a gallon, even though prices have fallen dramatically in recent weeks. That’s because no gas deliveries have been made to the Memorial Drive station since July.

John Reilly, a Providence attorney for Sunoco, said Balaghi has simply been a bad manager, having unpaid bills and not selling gas. “It’s not a case of a big company trying to strong-arm a small guy,” said Reilly. “He’s in violation of his lease agreement.”

A federal judge last week refused a request by Balahi to grant a restraining order to prevent Sunoco from closing the station, Reilly said.


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