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'Chairman' Banking on Kobe Bryant

Store owner got fixtures from hotel in which alleged assault happened and is planning a sale.

March 26, 2004|David Kelly | Times Staff Writer

DENVER — Steve Farland chomped his cigar and gazed proudly upon the sofa and chair in the back of the truck.

"A guy offered me $4,000 for the sofa," he said. "I told him I'd have to think about it. Who knows, maybe this is the ticket to ride. This may be the most valuable furniture I ever owned."

Last weekend, Farland bought up about 400 chairs, headboards and couches from the Lodge & Spa at Cordillera, where Los Angeles Laker star Kobe Bryant is alleged to have sexually assaulted an employee in June.

"I started looking at the furniture and each had a piece of tape showing what room they came from," said Farland, owner of The Chairman, a Denver furniture store. "Then I saw these two pieces had the number 35 on them. After that it was, as Sherlock Holmes would say, 'Elementary my dear Watson.' "

Room 35 was Bryant's room and where the alleged assault occurred. Now Farland hopes to auction the furniture on EBay.

Paul Pastoor, manager of the luxury hotel in Edwards, Colo., near Vail, is aghast at the idea.

"We are doing a $5-million renovation, and we called him and said come and get this stuff," he said. "He is trying to make a quick buck and opening up a bunch of old wounds."

Pastoor said police had examined the room for evidence but didn't remove the furniture. He also said that Farland cannot be sure the sofa and chair came from the room.

The hotel is checking with its lawyers to see if it can stop the auction. "I don't know if we can do anything," he said.

Farland wasted no time. He put up a sign Monday outside The Chairman, advertising all the other furniture he got from the lodge. The next morning, more than 300 people showed up to check out the merchandise.

"This is unbelievable, its like Christmas," said Farland, 47, standing like a grand marshal amid a parade of people filtering through the store. "I want to capitalize on this."

He brought in friends and family to staff the cash registers and load furniture.

"I think its bizarre but I guess the notoriety brings them in," said Michael Moss, owner of nearby Cushion World who was helping ring up customers. "People have a morbid curiosity."

The media converged on the business, which sits along a street full of antique shops and thrift stores in south Denver. The phones rang incessantly. Farland, wearing a buckskin jacket and cowboy boots, ran out of cash register tape and jumped into his sport utility vehicle to buy more.

"If the hotel was so concerned about anyone getting this stuff, why didn't they dig a hole and bury everything?" he asked, charging up the aisles of Office Depot. "I'm a businessman, I'm trying to make a buck. This thing didn't start with me."

Farland opened the store in 1991. He had spent some years as a drummer in a band before a run of bad luck landed him on welfare. Then he discovered an aptitude for chair making and The Chairman was born. He recently applied for a slot on the hit NBC show "The Apprentice" which stars Donald Trump.

Just then his cellphone chirped to the tune of the "William Tell Overture."

The store needed him back immediately to deal with customers.

"Can you believe this?" he asked giddily.

Bryant, 25, was in court this week for a pretrial hearing on the charge of felony sexual assault. His lawyers questioned the 19-year-old woman who said Bryant raped her. He said the sex was consensual. A trial date has not been set.

Back at the shop, Pam Randall of Littleton was watching as workers lifted chairs and sofas into the back of her truck.

"I was soaking in the tub this morning when I heard about this," said Randall who declined to give her age. "We just bought a ranch and needed some furniture. It didn't have anything to do with Kobe Bryant. I don't even want to think about what went on there."

Loretta Flanagan, 62, also of Littleton was shopping with her daughter.

"My daughter read about it in the paper," she said, wandering over to the truck to look at the furniture from Room 35. "I'd never buy that. I don't know if Kobe Bryant did anything or not but ... it turns me off. Yuck, is the operative word."

Farland's mother, Elma, 75, nodded.

"If I bought it I'd have it scrubbed and washed," she said. "And then have it cleaned."

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