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Thelma's Receives Reprieve

Thelma's sale falls through, as attempts are made to preserve the general store

Thelma’s General Store and the property surrounding the nostalgic town landmark have been put up for sale again. The land and buildings had been sold at auction in May, but the deal fell through.

Jeff Stein of Tranzon Fox, which had conducted the auction, said, “It was not sold. The seller did not accept the offer.” Stein said that even though the company signboard remains on the property, the company has not been asked to hold another auction at this point, and he does not know how the new sale will be conducted.

The May 12 auction drew out numerous members of the community as well as bidders. The owners, a partnership of investors, are offering 3.56 acres of land on Colvin Run Road that is zoned C-8 and R-1, making it mixed use and suitable to build homes as well as a commercial building. There are three existing structures on the property, including two businesses with leases that will convey to the new owners.

Alan Shams, the McLean builder who had made the original bid, said he is disappointed that the sale did not happen. “I accepted it. They did not want to sell. They think [my bid] was too low. They want much more than I offered them. They wanted $3 million. I don’t think I’ll go that high,” said Shams.

Shams’ “winning” bid was for $2,150,000. Back in May, the auctioneer had attempted to start the bidding at $4 million but had to go down to $2 million before there was any bid activity.

A REPRESENTATIVE OF THE OWNERS said they are currently in negotiations with other bidders who had registered at the auction, to see if one of those potential buyers is still interested in the property at the higher price. At the time of the auction, there were 12 registered bidders.

The Tranzon auction had a caveat that it was up to the owners, who were not in attendance, to accept the offer within a few weeks. Even on the day of the auction, Shams was alerted to the likelihood that the sellers would be looking for more money than he had offered.

David Olin, the president of the Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA), is attempting to work out a win-win situation that would preserve Thelma’s for Great Falls and allow the new developer to get the most on his return. Olin was a close personal friend of Thelma Feighery, who owned and ran the store for 50 years before her death a few years ago.

“There are a lot of options that, if the current owner is willing to look at, could work,” said Olin. Development of the property is by right. Olin is suggesting giving the developer GFCA backing in exchange for leaving Thelma’s intact. “It’s possible to give them support if they want to save the store,” said Olin.

The seller's representative confirms that Olin is trying to save the store but says even if the old building is preserved, Thelma’s faces an uphill battle because the community is not shopping at the store in sufficient volume to make it a profitable enterprise.