John Barleycorn must die - Page 2

An unscrupulous entrepreneur targets a Nob Hill institution
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Larry Ayre
Photo by Rory McNamara

Superior Court records show that she's been the target of a fairly steady stream of litigation since the 1980s, ranging from allegations that she refused to pay contractors or employees to charges that she disregarded contractual agreements with business partners.

One case, brought against Hanson in 2003 by the former owners of her Marina restaurant, alleged that she agreed to a purchase but then withheld payments in hopes of forcing a better deal when the sellers grew desperate. According to the suit, the "alleged secret intent" of Hanson "constitutes an intentional misrepresentation, deceit, or concealment of a material fact that has caused injury" to the former owners. A judge ruled against Hanson and demanded that she pay the plaintiffs $183,674.

That case didn't surprise Vickie Hall, who had a similar experience when she tried to sell her coffee shop in Amador County to Hanson earlier this year. After agreeing to pay full price for Hall's homegrown business, Hanson allegedly held the deal in escrow, and therefore off the market for sale to someone else, until Hall would agree to a lower purchase price.

Hall claims that when she begrudgingly agreed but asked for a higher deposit, Hanson simply never responded to the counteroffer. Hall says Hanson couldn't be reached for six weeks to sign over the original deposit money.

"It was a bad situation with a woman who I think is ruthless and could give a hoot about how her business practices are handled," said Hall, now living in Arkansas, who only sold the business because she and her partner are now on disability.

Look Hanson up on Yelp.com and you'll find a litany of complaints from former employees, neighbors, business partners, and customers. There's even a blog dedicated to the "eccentricities and out-and-out weirdness of San Francisco's worst entrepreneur," located at Luisaconfidential.blogspot.com.

In fact, Barleycorn supporter John Clark, who has lived in the city 25 years and worked in local restaurants for eight years, was warned by peers not to pursue a job in any of her restaurants, so he avoided them.

"She's a bad businesswoman and unscrupulous," Clark said. And the Barleycorn "is a great little English pub. I'm tired of the character that makes this city what it is getting sucked out of it. This is just another long-standing neighborhood institution being closed because of greed."

So far, Hanson has refused to discuss the Barleycorn, not returning calls from Ayre, Peskin, or the Guardian for this story. Her response to the demonstration outside her Union Street business was to give pub supporters the Italian version of the bird (video posted at savethebarleycorn.org).

In fact, the only thing anyone, including government officials, can do now is make it hard for her to open a new business in the building by changing zoning laws or refusing permits — actions that may hurt Hanson in the long run but won't change the Barleycorn's fate.

For now, the 'Corn's supporters are trying to maintain their optimism while being realistic. At Ayre's birthday party Oct. 13, patrons continued to add their names to the petition at the end of the bar while Ayre's wife explained where in their house the couple would put the historic wooden countertop once the bar closes. But no one will be done enjoying the establishment, or fighting to keep it open, until the last minute of its last day.

"I always believe that little miracles can happen," Peskin said. "I'm waiting for one."

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