News 2 I-Team: Local boutique owner under investigation

Charleston police are now investigating the owner of a local boutique.  Victims claimed they gave her products to sell, and when she paid them back the checks bounced.

Five different business owners reached out to the News 2 I-Team during the last three weeks about Nicole Soriano and her store Looking for Local.   Soriano rents space to local vendors in Citadel Mall to sell their products in her store.   When she sells their products, she is supposed to pay back the vendors.  Some vendors say that's not what's happened. Other vendors say they invested in Sorian’s second location, which never opened.

 

“It's Mt. Pleasant. It's Belle Hall. It’s a no-brainer,” Carpenter told the I-Team.

Allen Carpenter told the News 2 I-Team his cupcake shop, Holy City Cupcakes, in Citadel Mall has been so successful,  he was looking for a chance to expand his Holy City Cupcakes.  He thought he found the right place  and the right business partner in Nicole Soriano and her store Looking for Local.

“It's Mt. Pleasant. It's Belle Hall.  It’s a no-brainer,” Carpenter told the I-Team.

Carpenter signed an agreement to own equity in the new Belle Hall location of Looking for Local and ordered thousands of dollars in new equipment.

The problem for Carpenter started when he showed up at the store mid-February, and it still had the leasing information in the window.

“Pretty much our worst nightmare was confirmed,” he said.

After the I-Team started digging, we were contacted by more vendors.  One sent us pictures of Soriano taking potential investors on a tour of the Belle Hall location.  The I-Team learned Soriano contacted the owners of Belle Hall in November, but she never signed a lease, according to the Director of Leasing.

“I forgive her for what she’s done, but there are consequences.”

We also learned from another vendor in Soriano’s Citadel Mall location, the payments for sold products were bouncing.

Samm Creech is the owner of Southern Naturals.  She contacted the I-Team with checks. One was returned for non-sufficient funds.  Another check was written out of an account that didn't exist, according to bank records.

“I count on those funds,” Creech said.  “I forgive her for what she’s done, but there are consequences.”

At least one vendor already filed a civil case in small claims court.

Amid our investigation, Citadel Mall shut down the store.   Now the vendors are scrambling to get their products and their money back.

“I have hurt a lot of people and am working hard to right those wrongs," Soriano said

We tried contacting Soriano for her side of the story.  She agreed to meet with the I-Team, then she cancelled.

She sent the following statement:

“I have hurt a lot of people and am working hard to right those wrongs. The entrepreneur community is an amazing community. I will pay every cent owed to those owed and will work night and day to do so if needed. I am extremely sorry to  those I have harmed those that trusted me and saw the potential in the store and what it could have been had it been managed correctly.”

While business owners are waiting for resolution,  they wanted to share their story as a cautionary tale.

“While we can forgive her,” Carpenter said, “she has to face judgement for what she’s done.”

Charleston Police say this investigation is in its early stages and they are sorting out which issues are criminal and which are civil.  Officers were able to rectify Carpenter’s situation, and he received his money back from Soriano.

 

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