Graceland Empire Grows with Gift Shop Buy

By Eric Smith

MOVING IN: Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc. has purchased a property near Graceland that currently houses a souvenir shop. -- FILE PHOTO

Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc. has bought a property that sits next to Graceland and houses a souvenir shop whose owners sued EPE last year for conspiracy to eliminate competitors.

EPE paid $465,000 for 3706 Elvis Presley Blvd. from the Jefan Trust of Boca Raton, Fla., with Susan Sandelman as trustee.

Formerly an auto service garage, the 4,000-square foot store was built in 1975 and sits on approximately one-third of an acre due north of Graceland. The Shelby County Assessor of Property’s 2008 appraisal is $168,200.

The space is now leased by Boulevard Souvenirs, which is owned by Rick and Renae Roberts. Boulevard Souvenirs had leased the property from Global Real Estate LLC until EPE bought the assignment of rents and leases from Global Real Estate earlier this year. Those assignments state that the tenant’s lease is $1,178.33 per month.

Calls to EPE were not returned by press time.

Not a big shock

When reached by phone Friday morning, Renae Roberts wasn’t surprised to hear EPE finally succeeded in acquiring the real estate. “That doesn’t surprise me because of all the appraisers that were coming through (in recent months),” Roberts said. “I mean, come on, they’re bigger than us. We’re not exactly dumb.”

“I mean, come on, they’re bigger than us. We’re not exactly dumb.”
– Renae Roberts
Proprietor, Boulevard Souvenirs

EPE has been acquiring properties surrounding Graceland and beyond as part of its plans for a $250 million Tourist Development Zone. The company in 2006 offered to buy the Roberts’ business and assume the roughly 13 years remaining on the lease. The Roberts declined. The couple even reached out to the previous owner about acquiring the site themselves, efforts that were repeatedly rebuffed.

“We’ve been trying to buy this property ever since we moved in it,” Renae Roberts said. “They just kept telling us it’s not for sale.”

Tension builders

EPE’s attempt to buy the Boulevard Souvenirs business and Rick and Renae Roberts’ refusal to move created tension among the parties. The situation heated up last fall when EPE revised its distribution contracts so distributors were no longer allowed to sell licensed merchandise to vendors not approved by EPE within a five-mile radius of Graceland. That included Boulevard Souvenirs.

A claim was filed in federal court last year on behalf of Boulevard Souvenirs – a non-EPE-approved vendor – that EPE and vice president of international licensing Carol Butler were conspiring to eliminate all independently owned retail competitors near Graceland, but that lawsuit was eventually dismissed.

Since the brouhaha, Boulevard Souvenirs has had a sign hanging in its window affirming the 12 years remaining on its lease at the store – something Roberts said they plan to honor.

“We have no intention of vacating, we have no intention of leaving,” she said. “We have intentions of being there, not only for the 12 years, because we also have a stipulation in our lease that we can request a five-year extension.

“Right now we’re sitting tight.”