Boulevard Souvenirs, an Elvis-themed gift shop near Graceland, has filed a lawsuit over changes Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc. has made to vendor licensing agreements that prevent vendors from selling their wares to the gift shop. -- PHOTO BY ANDY MEEK.
Battle continues between EPE, area retailer
A little more than a year ago, a representative of Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc. floated a business proposition to Rick Roberts, the owner of a one-story brick storefront a few steps from Graceland.
The offer reportedly involved buying Roberts' Elvis-themed gift shop Boulevard Souvenirs for about $350,000 and assuming the 13 years remaining on its lease.
Roberts, who developed his independent retail operation at 3706 Elvis Presley Blvd. on land that once was the site of a car repair shop, turned down the request to sell. The store currently is stocked from front to back with trinkets such as old newspapers, T-shirts and mugs, and it grosses about $1 million a year.
But EPE didn't stop there, Roberts' attorney argues in a lawsuit filed earlier this year in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee. The corporation that officially conducts and manages Elvis-related business recently tweaked the licensing agreements it has in place with merchandise vendors. CKX Inc. and Robert F.X. Sillerman, which acquired an 85 percent ownership of Elvis Presley Enterprises in February 2005, were not named in the lawsuit.
A change that was inserted now prohibits vendors from selling their Elvis wares to unauthorized retailers within a 5-mile radius of Graceland.
"Well, guess who's within a 5-mile radius of Graceland?" said Randy Songstad, the attorney representing Boulevard Souvenirs. "So the vendors said, 'Hey, you can't do that, they do a lot of money with us.'
"And (EPE) said, 'If you sell to them, we'll take your license.' So the vendors called us up, one by one, and said, 'It's killing us, but we can't sell to you.'"
Earlier this month, one of the federal claims filed on behalf of Boulevard Souvenirs - a claim that EPE and vice president of international licensing Carol Butler were conspiring to eliminate all independently owned retail competitors near Graceland - was dismissed.
Why the conspiracy claim wasn't successful is that under the Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, a conspiracy involving a business and an employee can't technically be viewed as a conspiracy. A business, in other words, can't conspire with itself.
EPE did not respond to requests for an interview and stated in a previous e-mailed response that no comment would be forthcoming.
In a motion to dismiss the claims against EPE, Glankler Brown PLLC attorney William Bradley Jr. wrote that the effort was made to amend the vendor license agreements partly in response to an uptick in the proliferation of bootlegged Elvis merchandise around Graceland.
"EPE does not want its 'genuine' merchandise sold in a place where bootleg or unauthorized merchandise is also sold," he wrote.
EPE has in place more than 200 license agreements with licensees that either manufacture or authorize the manufacture of Elvis-themed collectibles and souvenirs.
Big year for business
Graceland, the late singer's famous mansion home, is a tourist mecca that averages about 566,000 visitors each year.
Across the street from Graceland sits Graceland Plaza, where EPE operates a number of Elvis-themed museums and attractions and sells related merchandise.
This year has been an important year for both EPE and Boulevard Souvenirs, in that it marks the 30th anniversary of the singer's death. Throughout the anniversary year, tourists are expected to descend in droves on the commercial pocket of Whitehaven surrounding Graceland.
Boulevard Souvenirs also expected to see an increase in sales this year, according to court documents. Underneath the gift shop's store logo on the sign that's passed by swarms of daily tourists are the words "The Beat Goes On."
"If you don't have official EPE merchandise, you get people who come to town, that's what they want - you don't have it, they don't buy from you," Songstad said. "So it's a huge deal in our industry to be able to buy officially licensed Elvis Presley merchandise."
Boulevard Souvenirs is preparing its next move in the court action over what EPE sees as an assertion of more control over its signature product line and what the small store sees as a bid by EPE to shut it out of the marketplace inappropriately.
Songstad declined to specify what legal options remain available, but insisted the recent dismissal of the conspiracy claim did not close the book on Boulevard's case.
2007/10/25 Andy Meek - www.memphisdailynews.com / www.epgold.com
Last edited by presley31; 10-25-2007 at 07:46 AM.