SOUTH GLENS FALLS — The Bonfare convenience store and Sunoco gas station is closed again, three years after meat rotted in the deli during a sudden closure.
But this time, it does not appear that owner Navjeet Chawla is coming back.
In bankruptcy court, he was ordered on March 29 to turn the store over to a friend from India who had loaned him money to buy the business. Chawla had 30 days to turn it over and appears to have closed the Route 9 store on Saturday, April 13.
A handwritten sign, saying “Sorry we have closed!” is taped to the front door.
But the new owner, Rajvinder Gandhi, may not be able to open it quickly. He has twice had his L-1 green card application rejected and has moved back to India. The court agreement calls for him to find someone else to operate the store.
To get a green card from an L-1 visa, an employer must sponsor the employee and attest that they have specialized knowledge that is crucial to the business. Proving that can be very difficult.
Gandhi loaned Chawla $269,000. Originally, Chawla was holding $100,000 “in trust” for Gandhi.
That increased after Chawla told Gandhi he had used the money to buy a business and needed more. With the increased money, they planned for Gandhi to take over the business when he got his green card.
At one point, Gandhi ran the store using Chawla’s liquor license and permits to sell lottery tickets and cigarettes — which is illegal — but he failed to get a green card and asked for his money back. That dispute went to court.
New York Supreme Court Justice Thomas Nolan Jr. determined in 2015 that, after considering the proceeds from when Gandhi ran the store, Chawla owed Gandhi $186,000, plus interest.
Then Chawla filed for bankruptcy and argued the debt should be discharged. Gandhi fought back through lawyers, who said Chawla had committed fraud in his dealings with Gandhi. That is one of the few arguments that can keep a debt from being discharged in bankruptcy.
Gandhi had argued in state Supreme Court that Chawla hadn’t made it clear to him that he would have to get his own liquor license and other permits, and said Chawla had exaggerated the profits of the business.
In bankruptcy court, the case is being argued again. Chawla has admitted to receiving money from Gandhi “in trust,” pending Gandhi’s green card application, investing it without permission and then not returning it when Gandhi asked for it.
“Mr. Chawla thereby violated his fiduciary duty by misappropriating (Gandhi’s) funds,” Gandhi’s lawyer, John Harwick, wrote in the most recent filing to the court.
The mess has left employees in the lurch, with some saying they haven’t been paid. Residents at the Clearview Motel next door are also aggrieved that the bread and meat inside might go to waste, as it did three years ago when Chawla abandoned the store for four months.
“He could at least give it away, rather than let it sit and rot,” said Mark Carroll, who painted rooftop air conditioner units for Chawla and wasn’t compensated for his work. “There’s people here who are hungry. They would take it all away.”
Carroll used to be a roofer, before injuring his back, and now lives in a room at the Clearview. He has a key to the Bonfare building, because he did occasional work for Chawla on the barter system. The rooftop painting was done in exchange for an old air compressor Chawla had in his back room, but he closed before giving it to Carroll.
It pains Carroll to watch the food go to waste, and to abandon the compressor, when he has a key.
“But I can’t go in there without permission,” he said. “I’m not a thief.”