Customers: Owner took money, ran

November 16, 2009 8:01:53 AM PST
Philadelphia police are investigating a furniture store.Customers say it took a lot of their money, and then vanished without providing the merchandise.

Furniture can be a costly investment so people often put pieces on layaway, but before you put your money down, read what happened to some local furniture buyers.

Karen Hargrove is packing up and getting ready to say hello to a new place.

In anticipation of her housewarming, she put some brand new furniture on layaway at Home Style Furniture.

"I trusted them to take my money and to have my bedroom set for me when I was about to move into my new home," Karen said.

Karen says she paid regular installments for the furniture for more than four months, about $1,000.

But when she went to the 5600 block of Germantown Avenue to make her last payment, the doors were locked and the owner and all the furniture had vanished!

"I looked around and I was like where's the furniture store, so it was very devastating," Karen said.

Genelle Walton is devastated, too.

She says she paid Home Style Furniture Design more than $2,000!

"I didn't feel like they were scamming or they were going to just up and leave with my money," Genelle said.

But police at the 14th District tell Action News they've received at least five complaints about the store and they want other victims to come forward..

"At this point, we've compiled all the cases and made it into one and this way we have a stronger case, a little more of an idea of where to look, what to look for," Lt. Michael Kopecki said.

Police say it's a strong possibility Home Style's owner, known as Gilbert, has opened up shop elsewhere and could be preying on more people.

It appears he closed a furniture store by the same name at 61 West Chelten Avenue after taking money from customers then opened the Germantown location where Karen and Genelle bought their furniture.

Police say time is of the essence if anyone wants to get their money back

"It depends on how fast we catch this guy; if we do catch him and if we can hold him with charges," Lt. Kopecki said.

Meantime, Action News went to what we believe to be Gilbert's home.

The person who answered the door told us Gilbert was ill and left the country.

But Karen and Genelle aren't buying it.

They have a message for the store's owner.

"You will be caught and persecuted because I'm willing to go through whatever I have to go through to get some justice," Karen said.

If you have any information about Home Style Furniture or the whereabouts of the owner, WE want to hear from you, too.

Call our tipline at 1-866-NEWS-SIX or click here.

To protect yourself from this kind of situation, look for red flags:

A salesman who encourages you to pay in cash or a store that provides very generic receipts or seems reluctant to document how much you've paid on layaway.

Also, think twice before putting items on layaway in the first place. It's better to put money aside on your own and make the purchase once you have all the money together.

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