Rumors swirl at Toddy’s in Aspen
November 21, 2007
ASPEN ” A new store in Aspen had not even opened its doors this week before it was the target of rumors that it was owned by a disgraced businessman from Tulsa, Okla.
But the owner of the new Aspen shop, a leather-goods store called Toddy’s, at 414 Hyman Ave., says the rumors are all wrong, and that he is planning a legal campaign to counter the rumors and set the record straight.
Ron Fesler, the store owner, admitted being a friend of Todd Fox ” the Tulsa businessman ” since the two were kids in Kansas. He also said that he and Fox had lengthy negotiations over the past year or two about a retail partnership that ultimately became Toddy’s.
But, Fesler said, “when he [Fox] got into this trouble” that ultimately led to the collapse of Fox’s business empire, and “he had to back away” from Toddy’s. Fesler said the name of the business was “inspired by the concept of the apres-ski Hot Toddy that invokes the feeling of warmth.”
As for the rumors that Fox left his employees and others mired in financial ruin, Fesler said confidently, “They’re not true.”
Meanwhile, a television news station in Tulsa has aired multiple installments of the story, including descriptions of economically devastated former employees suddenly without health insurance and missing one or more paychecks.
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One former employee, Dustin Dodson of Tulsa, told The Aspen Times in a telephone interview that “he owes me $1,400” in back pay, a number he said was typical of hundreds of former FOX Collision workers. He said no one knew about the impending closure “until that Saturday [Oct. 27]. We all had to find out through a letter.”
There apparently are no criminal charges pending against Fox, although a class action suit on behalf of former employees reportedly is being prepared.
In late October, Fox shuttered a multistate body shop corporation called FOX Collision, which included 18 stores in four states. Fox reportedly fled from Oklahoma in a rented Cadillac Escalade, and left behind a red sea of bouncing paychecks, unhappy customers and pissed-off suppliers, according to television news reporter Brian Mummolo.
In a lengthy e-mail posted on Oct. 29 on an industry website, Fox blamed unscrupulous insurance company policies, and vengeful acts by corrupt insurance officials, for the demise of his business. Attempts to speak directly with Fox have not been successful.
Mummolo, who works for the ABC affiliate in Tulsa, KTUL, was sent across three states to Colorado to track down Fox, which he did last week at a Marriot Residence Inn in Englewood, Colo. As depicted in an online news clip, Fox evaded Mummolo, dashing to his car just ahead of Mummolo’s microphone and driving away.
Mummolo next drove to Aspen and found Toddy’s, but the store was not open and Fox was not around, the reporter said.
Mummolo, reached at the TV station in Tulsa on Tuesday, said he knew to go to Aspen because a man who once worked on the FOX Collision website (and who claims to be owed a considerable sum of money for his work) also reportedly helped set up the Toddy’s site. According to the Internet domain-name search site Whois, Fox is the registered owner of the Toddy’s website [TODDYS.com].
When Mummolo got to Aspen, he said, he found a former employee of FOX Collision ” a manager at one of the five Fox Collision stores in Tulsa whom Mummolo had once interviewed ” coming out of the Toddy’s store.
In addition, two other former Fox Collision employees, Megan Gilligan and Elizabeth Craig, are working at the Aspen store.
Gilligan, who said she is Toddy’s retail operations manager, was the only employee in the store when it opened on Tuesday. She said she had worked for FOX Collision but that she had left “quite a while back” before the business folded.
Fesler, speaking from California, said he and Fox had been friends since their youth and that the two had been talking about a retail partnership along the lines of Toddy’s, which sells high-end leather wraps and blankets.
Fesler said he is the sole owner and president of the corporation, Toddy’s Collection, Inc., and the Aspen store is the only outlet for goods designed by him, Gilligan and others.
He said Fox is an employee with Toddy’s, “behind the scenes, to help with promotion, advertising, things like that … more of a consulting kind of thing.”
As for the accusations about employees without paychecks, suppliers that had been stiffed and customers wondering about their vehicles, Fesler said, “I’ve seen the allegations, and I’ve talked with him about them. They’re not true. There’s more to the story than I think the average person sees.”
He said he did not feel Fox poses an employment risk for Toddy’s, and said about Fox’s critics, “I hope they see that this business [Toddy’s] doesn’t have anything to do with FOX Collision and the troubles he’s been having there.”
But at least one Fox critic feels differently.
“Todd Fox, owner of Fox Collision Centers recently put hundreds of workers out on the streets without jobs, without notice or an explanation,” declared Logan Mathews in an e-mail forwarded to The Aspen Times. “He let his employees paychecks bounce, let insurance premiums go unpaid, and left customers with cars not repaired, or operational … I hope the locals will shun this man and deny him the acceptance he seeks in your mountain community.”
John Colson’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.