At a recent public hearing, the Village of Mineola’s board of trustees had a contentious discussion for two hours with representatives of CVS on whether or not the village should revoke CVS’ special use permit after years of them not being good neighbors.
On March 25, 2021, village attorney John P. Gibbons sent a letter that was addressed to the CEO of CVS and to the CVS store that is located at 17 East Jericho Tpke., which is the store in question. The CVS that is located at 17 East Jericho Tpke. had its special use permit approved back in January 2008 by the village board.
“This notice is to advise you that the board of trustees will hold a public hearing…to consider whether the special use permit should be revoked based upon the continual failure of CVS to abide by the conditions set forth in the decision and CVS’ frequent, numerous, and continue violations of the Mineola village code,” the letter stated.
Daniel Whalen, who is the superintendent of the village’s building department, said that he has been involved personally with the CVS situation for 12 years. Whalen spoke about incidents that happened back in 2013 and onward when CVS was fined numerous times for not clearing their sidewalks of snow and ice, accumulating garbage in its public and private areas, having its sidewalks obstructed with litter and weeds, failing to maintain its dumpster and more.
In March 2017, Whalen sent a letter to then CEO of CVS Larry Merlo detailing his frustration with CVS’ failure to comply with village code. Merlo left CVS as CEO on Feb. 1, 2021. Karen Lynch became the new CEO the same day.
“Since its opening in March 2009, the Mineola Building Department has had a continuing and progressive property maintenance problem with this particular location,” Whalen’s letter stated. “Such issues include, but are not limited to snow removal, garbage, trash, debris, litter, unkempt flower and planting beds, as well as illegal parking of CVS rental trucks, trailers and more on the lot. I understand the issuance of village justice court summonses has resulted in the imposition and payment of over $11,000 in fines as of this writing.”
Whalen said that when his office reached out to regional or district managers of CVS, there was little cooperation or compliance. There is another CVS location at 410 Jericho Tpke., in Mineola in which Whalen said is easier to deal with when it comes to compliance issues.
“Walgreens has recently opened a superstore directly across from the CVS store in question,” Whalen added. “To date, the village and this office has had zero issues with their operation.”
The letter that Whalen sent back in March 2017 to Merlo, as well as numerous executive and senior vice presidents, never received a response back to the village.
“Those numbers [fines] are now up to $22,000 that have already been paid and approximately a dozen to 20 more summonses waiting to be arraigned,” Whalen said. “So we have seen little to no cooperation whatsoever of any level including the CEO’s office of the organization. Our continued pleas to the local store bring little or no satisfaction whatsoever.”
The letter that was sent to CVS headquarters about the special use permit revocation, was received on March 29, 2021. Whalen said his office has photos from March 19, 2021 to May 4, 2021 showing that conditions have not improved on the property even after CVS received the possible revocation letter.
Mayor Scott Strauss told the representatives at the hearing that their two stores in the village have been nothing but headaches.
“We spent hours and hours preparing for this hearing,” Strauss said. “Documenting, researching, and cataloging the dozens of summonses, notice of violations, dispositions and 150 pictures we have showing the appalling conditions of your properties. The senior leadership of your company, including the CEO, executive and senior vice presidents as well as regional and store managers all received notices and summonses and yet nothing was done. We’ve tried everything to get you to do what you’re supposed to do and you have fought us every step of the way. You just pay a fine and another fine and another. It stops tonight. Your entire organization should be disgusted as we are, but you’re not. It is completely obvious that the leadership of CVS couldn’t care less about our community.”
Representing CVS at the hearing was lawyer Andrea Hellman from the firm Allyn & Fortuna and Lana Sholomoba who is the district leader for CVS stores in the Mineola area.
Hellman said CVS is against the revocation of its permit and that it was upsetting to hear what Whalen and Strauss had to say.
“CVS is very happy to be here in Mineola and it’s very upsetting that this is going on for so long,” she added. “We have a very concrete specific plan going forward to address how we’re going to address everything going forward.”
Hellman said that once CVS received Whalen’s letter in 2017 it hired a landscaping company as an outside vendor to do sweeping of its premises two times a week—something that was unique to only 17 East Jericho Tpke.
“Unfortunately, we see that didn’t work out,” Hellman said.
Hellman added that since there is an abundance of flowers and shrubbery in front of that specific CVS, it does attract a lot more garbage getting stuck in its bushes than other locations.
“CVS has created a new position called a porter and no CVS has this position,” Hellman said. “This person is going to be responsible for a layered position to enhance the store level staff that’s there to bring special attention to the store’s exterior. CVS has also issued a policy directive, effective immediately, that monitoring and cleaning tasks must be completed three times a day and photo documentation must be approved by Miss Sholomoba.”
CVS’ dumpster and its trash pickup will also be increased from two to three times a week as well as sweeping services from two to three times a week, according to Hellman.
“I am confident that the new measures will be successful in achieving compliance with the conditions of the special use permit,” Sholomoba said, who has been the district leader since November 2019. “I would like to apologize for the pain that we have caused you.”
Strauss asked Hellman why no one from CVS called the village when they received summonses all the way back in 2013 to present.
“Why didn’t anybody reach out to us?,” he asked. “Why didn’t anybody clean the property, which you didn’t until just last week? In fact maybe five days ago. Why?”
Hellman said that she didn’t realize that it would be appropriate to contact the board directly.
“CVS really just wanted to come up with a good plan that was going to work,” she said. “They really just wanted to get everything together and it did take a little while to get in place unfortunately.”
Strauss added that village attorneys Mr. Truncale and Mr. Trentacoste worked with CVS on the summonses and the courts and even then no one from corporate called the CVS location to ask what was going on with the garbage and its failure to comply.
“I want to hear why CVS does this,” Strauss said. “I’m sure it doesn’t just happen in Mineola. Does it happen in your other communities? It has to because it is a lack of corporate oversight from start to finish in your company, and it’s disgusting. The only reason why you care now is because we’re going to shut the doors on you.”
Deputy Mayor Paul Pereira, who was virtual during the hearing, said that the dumpster on East Washington Avenue is disgusting.
“I guess you figure if you don’t see it, it doesn’t happen,” Pereira said. “It is really just sad and embarrassing. I don’t understand how a company with a corporate image of CVS would tolerate this.”
Trustee George Durham asked the possibility about a self-termination contract with CVS.
“If they don’t maintain this [new plan] in six months and they keep getting fines, they automatically revoke their own license,” Durham said.
Gibbons said that it is something that can be discussed if the board wants to move forward with that. Hellman asked if the board would reconsider the self-termination and have them back in six months for another hearing if things aren’t up to par.
“As Miss Sholomoba indicated, she is somewhat new to the role,” Hellman said. “She did take care of dismissing the last store manager who was not performing up to performance. We are now going to proceed full steam with this new plan in place.”
Durham said he preferred if it self-revokes.
Residents, who live on East Washington and Royal avenues, spoke at the hearing with one resident saying that the village should revoke CVS’ permit. Another resident who lives directly behind CVS said that he’s made numerous complaints to the store manager about issues with the dumpsters, its maintenance, rats, its spotlights shining into his house, picking up dumpster garbage at 4 a.m. disrupting his family’s sleep and more—all to no avail.
“I’m not sure what we’re going to do,” Strauss said. “We’re going to close the hearing and reserve decision on this. Why did it take a promise to possibly close down your store to get action? We’ve sent letters to everybody up the food chain. Did they sit there and get the letter and say, ‘This is more than a summons. Maybe we should clean up the property?’ And it still took you six weeks to do it? Tell them we’re pissed off.”
Hellman said that CVS understands and the village’s complaints about the store will be shared with the corporation.