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The Book Exchange latest business to be sued by Johnson

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This picture shows one of the wheelchair-friendly aisles at the Book Exchange. It’s part of the ongoing changes taking place at the bookstore which is one of more than three-dozen area businesses t...


POSTED June 27, 2014 12:24 a.m.

Manteca’s Book Exchange has run into an unexpected legal chapter.

The Family City’s only dedicated book store has been served with the same legal notice that has rocked dozens of businesses in Manteca and Ripon in the past several weeks. The notice simply states that the business is not handicapped friendly according to the language of the American Disabilities Act or ADA.

The employees at the Book Exchange said they were handed the legal papers last week by a woman and not by the man behind the string of lawsuits. They were told that the aisles inside the store were not wheelchair friendly. While they admit that this may pose some problem to physically challenged customers, the four women employees at the bookstore all state emphatically that in the couple of instances in the past year when they had wheelchair-bound customers, they went all out to assist them.

“We open doors and help them all the time,” Lois said.

The narrow-aisles situation is not the only issue at Book Exchange. There is also the matter of stepping up to the other section of the store. Several years ago, the business next door closed. Seizing that opportunity to expand, Book Exchange owner Cheryl Lovering took over the vacant unit. An inside connecting door between the two units was created allowing browsing customers to access the new area where biographies, travels, history, ethnic writings, gardening, wines and wineries and other reading categories are currently located.

The owner of the commercial building complex that is home to Book Exchange and several other businesses is Manteca businessman Arvin Reed, the owner of Arvin Home Systems located in one of the unites. A beauty salon, a pet grooming place, and an outfit that teaches martial arts are among the commercial outfits located in this one building that is right next to Luu’s Chicken Bowl on the corner of North Main and East North Street.

There was a bit of silver lining that I gathered over the weekend when I was at the bookstore. It was easy to see the ongoing effort to clear up the aisles. I was informed that the building owner has hired a consultant to assess the situation and then make recommendations as to what need to be changed or rearranged to meet ADA requirements or mandates.

Old McGowan’s Feed on Lathrop Road, formerly known simply as Manteca Feed Store since the 1950s, has done the same thing, widening its aisles to better accommodate wheelchairs, since Carmichael attorney Scott Johnson has filed lawsuits against the businesses in Manteca and Ripon alleging noncompliance with ADA. The two neighboring cities, though, have not been the only ones singled out. Johnson has done the same thing up and down the Golden State.

In Manteca alone, more than 30 businesses – many of them small and family-owned like Old McGowan’s and Book Exchange have had lawsuits already filed against their alleged ADA noncompliance, while 11 businesses have been sent letters of notifications but with no lawsuits filed against them as of June 4.

Unfortunately, one business in Ripon has succumbed to the weight of the legal edict forced upon them. The new owners of the Barnwood Restaurant, Don Lee and Ken Hildebrand, decided to close its doors because of the financial burden that would have been required to meet the legal language of the ADA.

So, what’s next in this ongoing ADA-related debacle?

At the Book Exchange over the weekend, employees and customers alike engaged in animated conversations about the Carmichael-based lawyer, Scott Johnson, who has been spreading terror among businesses big and small up and down the Golden State using the ADA as his legal stick to implement the law – or is it? – ostensibly on behalf of those with physical challenges.

Just as animatedly, the conversations focused on a group of wheelchair-bound Manteca residents who are going around town circulating a petition reportedly condemning what Johnson is trying to do to help people like them. These Happy Wheelers, which is what this group is called, are reportedly mad – and concerned – that if these targeted businesses where they are regular customers end up closing their doors because of Johnson’s legal campaign, they fear they’ll end up not having any other place to go. At least, business places where they haven’t had any shopping problems at all and where they have been treated well, like the employees at the Book Exchange.

This column was written before the Happy Wheelers took their beef in the petition they are circulating. A full update on their ongoing efforts appears on Page 1 of the Manteca Bulletin’s Monday, June 23, edition.

I particularly commend Happy Wheeler Brad Peters’ candid, tell-it-like-it-is, don’t-tread-on-me comments about the entire sad affair. He is a familiar face to my family. We have seen him in some of the local restaurants that we have patronized, and in other public places and community events. He is a familiar face to a lot of people and easy to talk to. He and the other Happy Wheelers have taken their message into the open, one wheel-roll at a time, to right what they believe is wrong.

“I’m out there trying to help the businesses…. This thing has people afraid that it’s going to cost them everything,” he is quoted as saying in the Bulletin.

“He (Johnson) comes into a town like Manteca and, files these lawsuits making all of these claims, yet we live here and have never really had to deal with any of these issues. When we do have a problem, we talk to the city or the business and it gets taken care of. It would seem to me (that) if you aren’t from a community, you shouldn’t be able to come in and fill of these lawsuits… that just shouldn’t be possible.”

Tragically, Johnson’s solo campaign has already claimed one commercial victim in the area – the Barnwood Restaurant in Ripon which has been a dining staple for decades. Renovation expenses related to the mandated structural changes to meet the ADA requirements were just beyond the fiscal capabilities of the owners, forcing them to shut their doors. Not only did the city lose tax revenues. There was the human toll as well – 12 employees losing their jobs.

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