Brides, nonprofit administrators and other event planners say they’ve been frustrated in their efforts to get their deposit money back from the Hearthstone Manor, which is closing after tonight’s final event, and they’ve gotten little information from the venue’s management.
The 47-year-old Depew banquet hall wrote on its Facebook page that it would close this week, confirming for the first time the speculation about the venue’s fate that began in late February.
But the Hearthstone’s owners and its attorney aren’t saying anything about the property’s future, or what the venue plans to do about the deposits it holds. Some customers say they’re considering hiring a lawyer as they pursue a refund.
“They haven’t helped me at all,” said Sarah Ferguson, who was planning to hold her May 10 wedding at the Hearthstone and had put down $1,000.
The Hearthstone ownership hasn’t said much publicly about the closing, nor offered any reason for the decision, deferring comment to their lawyer. It is known the venue suffered a blow when a former employee stole $85,753, a theft that prompted criminal charges and a civil judgment in State Supreme Court.
Attorney Richard A. Grimm III previously told The News that the Hearthstone’s owners wanted to sell to someone who would keep the venue open and they hoped to refund customers’ deposits for events that were canceled. He declined further comment Thursday.
The Hearthstone’s latest public statement, on its Facebook page, came Saturday and noted that the owners were reluctantly closing the venue at 333 Dick Road after two final events: One held last weekend, according to an employee, and the Amherst Gaelic League’s fundraiser being held tonight.
“After 47 years this is like a death in the family,” the venue wrote on Facebook, adding, “I apologize to everyone involved and hope there is light at the end of the tunnel for everyone.”
Word that the Hearthstone – which was well-known as the site of political rallies, weddings and Dyngus Day celebrations – might close first came out on Feb. 20, leaving customers scrambling to find out whether their events still would be held.
Many customers said they found out about the closing from media outlets, not the Hearthstone, and some say to this day they’ve never received a call from the venue. Employees have apologized, on Facebook, saying there are only two of them fielding hundreds of phone calls from customers.
Ferguson and her fiancé managed to switch their reception to the Hilton Garden Inn Buffalo Airport, for the same date, but they now have to change the name and address for the venue on their already printed invitations.
They had put down a $500 deposit with the Hearthstone and paid another $500 in advance toward their bill. She and her fiancé had carefully planned the budget for their wedding, and they’re having to trim costs where possible because they fear they won’t ever see that money again.
“I think we’re going to look at a lawyer – that’s a lot of money just to lose,” said Ferguson, who is from Western New York but lives and works in Ontario now.
Another bride-to-be, Erica Pawlewski, said she was told by a Hearthstone employee that she was welcome to sue but she would not get a refund of her $1,000 deposit for her April 12 wedding, which she and her fiancé moved to the Holiday Inn Buffalo Airport on the same date.
“I read my contract and it clearly states that in the event the venue was to close my refund would be paid in full,” Pawlewski told The News in an email.
One nonprofit group, Housing Opportunities Made Equal, hasn’t had any luck getting someone at the Hearthstone to respond to a request for a refund of their $1,000 deposit, even after the group sent a certified letter on Feb. 21, said Scott W. Gehl, HOME’s executive director.
The organizers of the Hearthstone’s annual Dyngus Day celebration, the Chopin Singing Society, didn’t have to put down a deposit with the venue, said Ann T. Mikoll, the retired judge who serves as the society’s president. They managed to move the event to the Adam’s Mark Hotel in downtown Buffalo.
Officers with the Amherst Gaelic League are just happy to be able to hold their event tonight at the Hearthstone, where they’ve enjoyed excellent customer service during the more than 25 years they’ve gone there, said Chris Flynn, the league’s treasurer.
Jennifer Eisenhauer will be working tonight, her last night on the job at the Hearthstone, where her brother, Eric, also worked and where she started only a few months ago. She cleaned and helped set up for events and said she liked her co-workers and bosses.
“It was one of the best places I worked,” she said.