Arlington, VA

Two months after it abruptly closed, there are still no answers for customers of Washington Golf Center.

The closing left clients and customers holding worthless gift cards and unpaid bills.

The owners of the Shirlington building that housed the store had to hold a cash liquidation sale earlier this year, telling ARLnow.com that the company had stopped paying its rent in October and had not even bothered to declare bankruptcy. The company simply walked away from the lease, the landlords said, forcing them to sell the remaining merchandise themselves in order to recover some of their losses.

Store customers who had recently bought gift cards, however, had no way of getting any of their money back. One customer from Fort Washington, Md. said he had bought each of his sons a $500 Washington Golf Center gift card for Christmas. Neither had used it when the store went belly-up. The value of the gift cards went from $1000 to $0 overnight.

“What’s unfortunate is that there’s no information — no final clearance, nothing like that,” the customer said. “I would have liked some sort of announcement, some advance notice.”

Other customers who commented on our story also reported holding gift cards worth between $125 and $1,250.

“We’re well aware of the company,” said Edward Johnson, local president of the Better Business Bureau. “They have an ‘F’ rating and that’s because of complaints.”

Johnson said consumers have very little recourse when a company closes its doors without filing for bankruptcy.

“It’s not uncommon for businesses to go under. When they do, however, there’s an obligation, if they’re incorporated, to wind down the corporation and file for bankruptcy. That’s what a company with integrity would do.”

Several people have commented about the store on the internet said they got the impression that Washington Golf Center was going out of business well before it actually closed, due to low inventory and other factors. Johnson said a crime may have been committed if the store sold gift cards while preparing to close.

“If the company knowingly sold gift certificates and knew at the same time that they were closing their doors, then there is a case for potential fraud,” he said.

It’s unclear whether any criminal action is being taken. As of May 18, the Arlington Commonwealth’s Attorney did not have any cases pending. Contacted by ARLnow.com, the Virginia Attorney General’s office was mum about the company.

“The attorney general’s office can neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of any pending case or investigation,” said spokesperson Brian Gottstein.

“However, any consumer that paid money to Washington Golf Center and does not believe he or she received what he or she paid for can file a complaint with the Office of Consumer Affairs (if the location of the WGC is not in Fairfax County) and with the Fairfax County Department of Telecommunications and Consumer Services (if location of the WGC is in Fairfax County),” Gottstein said in an email.

Johnson said he also encourages Washington Golf Center customers to file with the BBB so the organization can compile a list of complaints.

He said the best way for consumers to protect themselves against losses from a business closing is to use a credit card. If the purchase is made within 30 to 60 days of the closing, the credit card company may be able to issue a refund.

Efforts to reach Charles Chay, owner of Washington Golf Center, or his son Thomas, who ran the business around the time of its closing, were unsuccessful.

Public records show that Thomas Chay filed for a personal bankruptcy in 2008.

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