Facing a trademark infringement lawsuit, Sun Cedar files for bankruptcy and closes its doors

photo by: Richard Gwin

Shine Adams is the founder of a nonprofit company called Sun Cedar, which empowers at-risk members of the community in a continuing effort to provide them with meaningful paid employment.

Shine Adams says he will never make another tree again.

More than two years ago Adams founded Sun Cedar, a woodworking company aimed at helping the down and out get back on their feet. In May the business moved into the Penn House at 1035 Pennsylvania St., but now it has closed its doors for good.

Offering work to the homeless and previously incarcerated, Sun Cedar primarily crafted handmade aromatic ornaments shaped like cedar trees.

Using the tree shape was just “common sense,” Adams said.

“It’s a symbol for growth, it’s a symbol for strength. It’s the material that we use. I love the meaningful nature of that image,” he said.

Plus, the simple shape was easy to teach employees to make, Adams said.

“I couldn’t imagine back then that anything would ever come of it,” he said.

All the same, it’s the cedar tree shape that landed Sun Cedar into a bit of trouble, Adams said.

In December 2015 the Car-Freshner Corporation filed a federal lawsuit in the Northern District of New York against Sun Cedar, claiming the shape of its ornaments infringed upon Car-Freshner’s trademarked product, which is also a tree-shaped, aromatic ornament.

Unable to cope with the growing legal costs to battle the Car-Freshner Corporation, Adams said he made the difficult decision to file for bankruptcy and close the doors to Sun Cedar forever.

The bankruptcy claim was officially filed on Sept. 19.

Now, Adams said he’s in the process of adding up Sun Cedar’s assets, which will then be used to pay off the business’s outstanding debts.

Once Sun Cedar’s bankruptcy is resolved, Adams is ordered to alert the New York court that is ruling on the Car-Freshner Corporation lawsuit, according to federal court filings.

In the meantime, Adams said he’s already thinking of new ideas for his next venture.

“I know myself and I know the board and I know the community that supports Sun Cedar,” Adams said. “And I will not stop in my mission to giving people the chance to work.”

While he loves cedar and loved making the trees, Adams said his real desire is to help people who just need a chance.

“I know how it feels to be shunned, I know how it feels to be told no, I know how it feels to be ignored,” he said. This work is “the gift that keeps on giving. Giving somebody an opportunity to change their own lives.”

But before starting anything new, Adams said he wants to make sure any open Sun Cedar business is resolved. Afterward, however, he said “whatever I make next will be even better.”

In a news release, Adams said Sun Cedar has been recognized by the Douglas County Bar Association and the National Points of Light Organization for its contributions to the homeless, recovering-addict and former-felon populations.

Adams said neither he nor Sun Cedar’s board of directors has ever drawn a paycheck from the business and that all the employees were paid $15 an hour.

In June, Sun Cedar garnered a bit of celebrity after actress Kristen Bell contributed $10,000 toward the business’s move into the Penn House.

And now that Sun Cedar is no more, Adams says he encourages those who still wish to help to donate to the Penn House, which is a part of Ballard Community Services.

The Penn House offers a clothing pantry, a “Suitable for Work Professional Closet,” school kits and voluntary income tax assistance, among other things.

More information can be found online at ballardcenter.org.