Whistleblower: Five months later, no sofa

  • Article by: PAT PHEIFER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 9, 2012 - 10:38 AM

Their new couch was supposed to come in 10 weeks. It never did. Instead, the store was liquidated and shuttered.

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Exterior of Carroll's Furniture store in Arden Hills.

Photo: Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

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After years of hand-me-downs from their parents, Randi and Nick Sundsmo were pretty excited to buy brand-new furniture last year.

Two friends referred them to Carroll's Furniture in Arden Hills, where they found two sofas they liked. Despite providing a $1,400 down payment last March, however, the Sundsmos never got the sectional sofa they ordered.

It was supposed to arrive at their Roseville home in about 10 weeks, along with the $400 leather sofa they ordered from Carroll's. The smaller sofa arrived in June. But after months of excuses from the store, Nick Sundsmo said he got fed up and canceled the sectional order in late August.

Scott Rosenthal, the former owner of Carroll's, blamed the manufacturer and his own cash-flow problems for the delay. The store's inventory was liquidated and the shop is now out of business, Rosenthal said.

Despite some mixed signals, the Sundsmos ultimately obtained a full refund of $1,400. But the family's experience raises a good question: What recourse do consumers have if they pay in advance for a service or product from a store that goes out of business before delivering the goods?

Marshall Tanick, a Minneapolis consumer-rights attorney, said a customer's chance of obtaining a full refund in a situation like that are "somewhere between slim and none," particularly if they paid with cash or by check

"Interestingly, the merchants have greater rights than the customers," Tanick said. "The merchants can take back the property if you don't pay on it. The customer is SOL, basically, if they pay the money and the merchant goes out of business or leaves town."

Tanick said customers can sue in conciliation court, but the costs of doing that often exceed the amount lost. He offered these tips:

• Check up on a business first and avoid purchasing anything from retailers on shaky financial ground.

• Beware of putting money down on items that are not readily available.

• If a merchant goes out of business while holding your money, contact the financial institution that cashed your check to see if there are any assets and take swift action.

Randi Sundsmo said she first became suspicious about Carroll's a couple weeks after ordering the sofas, when a saleswoman from the store called to find out if the family was ready to place an order.

"I told her/reminded her that we did order in March," Randi wrote to Whistleblower. "The lady apologized and told us she had us mixed up with another order. That should have been a red flag right there, but this place was old school so I just kept the faith we would get our stuff soon."

That didn't happen. After Carroll's failed to make the first delivery date, the store informed the Sundsmos that the manufacturer was backed up and that they could expect the sectional by July 4. When that date came and went, they were given another delivery date of Aug. 10 or 11. Once again, no sofa.

"By now I was mad," Randi said last week.

After hearing nothing from the store for months, Nick decided to visit Carroll's around Thanksgiving. To his dismay, he discovered the business was in the process of being liquidated.

He said Rosenthal, the store owner, assured him that a refund would show up on his check card. It did. But a couple of days later, there was a new store charge for $1,400. When Whistleblower contacted Rosenthal, he said the mix-up happened between the time his account was closed and a liquidation company took over the store's assets.

Last month, the Sundsmos' bank credited their account for the $1,400. Rosenthal told Whistleblower he won't challenge the refund.

And the sectional? In late August, the Sundsmos ordered the same sofa from Welcome Furniture in Albertville. It was delivered to their home in five weeks.

Pat Pheifer • 952-746-3284

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