TARPON SPRINGS, Fla. (WFLA) – More people have stepped forward to say a now-defunct Tarpon Springs furniture shop owes them furniture or money.
The ordeal became public when Lise Buck turned to Better Call Behnken out of desperation.
Buck’s mother, Christine, was sad when she had to move into an apartment and found that her prized piano, a 100-year-old family heirloom, would not fit. So, Buck and her sisters went to Off The Beaten Path & Pistachios Antiques & Collectibles and the owner, Paul Strope, promised to turn the piano into a shelf, coffee table, end table and clock.
“We figured this would be a way for her to have pieces of it that she could fit in the house and that were useful and she could still have those memories and she could look at it and remember the good times that she had as a child,” Buck said.
In April, Buck and her sisters shelled out $1,000 for the reconstructed furniture. It wasn’t until December that they were told to pick it up. When Buck showed up to the shop on December 15, she says it was closed.
After Buck called Better Call Behnken, we paid the shop a visit and noticed it was completely cleared out. A neighbor said a moving truck showed up weeks ago and loaded up furniture and left. They also said customers show up every day looking for their furniture, some of which was left there on consignment.
When we contacted Strope last week, he did not return our calls for comment. He finally responded a week later and claimed he’s not hiding. He said the owner of the building where he operated the shop died during the summer and the new landlord evicted him with little notice.
Strope said he sent his customers a letter explaining the situation. But some customers did not receive that letter and had no idea what was going on.
“I will return everything,” Strope said. “Several people have already picked up items, and I am making appointments to return the rest.”
Strope said he has about 20 pieces of furniture and several accessories, such as lamps and artwork to return.
Meanwhile, some vendors who made furniture for Strope said they have not been paid. A vendor named Vivian Johnson says she is owed thousands of dollars and one check for more than $1,100 did not clear. Two customers, including Buck, filed police reports with Tarpon Springs Police.
Maj. Jeff Young says Strope is cooperating and a detective is watching him closely.
“This detective is going to stay on this case and keep an eye on everything, make sure that everybody’s made whole in this situation,” Young said. “Anytime you have a family heirloom, it’s priceless, and we want to make sure everybody gets what they need here.”