Employees at Louise Blouin Media had a rude awakening when they came to work at their Chelsea offices on Tuesday. Shortly after the business day had started, a staffer working for The Starrett-Lehigh Building in West Chelsea shut out the lights and told Blouin staffers present that they needed to pack up and go home, said sources familiar with the situation. Telephone numbers at Louise Blouin’s offices on Tuesday were then later disconnected.
For the rest of the next several hours, staffers were convinced that they had been evicted. Then again, this wasn’t entirely surprising. Louise Blouin Media, which publishes Artinfo.com, Art+Auction, Modern Painters and Gallery Guide, has a rough history when it comes to paying the bills. Sources said that several staffers salary checks bounced during their last pay period. Last summer, several unpaid freelance writers formed a group called WAAANKAA — Writers Angry At Artinfo Not Kidding Around Anymore — demanding failed payment. And The New York Post reported in May 2010 that Louise Blouin owed more than $44,000 in back rent.
Ben Hartley, president of Louise Blouin Media, said there was a “misunderstanding” with building management and that everyone should be able to return to work tomorrow.
And what was the problem?
“There were issues with rent, building management issues — grievances on both sides,” said Hartley. He added that the company paid rent last Friday and that “this will be resolved amicably.”
The timing of a near-eviction seems to make sense: Bloomberg News reported last week that the The Starrett-Lehigh Building is being sold to RXR Realty for $900 million.
In regards to the bounced paychecks, Hartley conceded there “were some issues with paychecks” but said it was an accounting problem and those staffers have since been paid.