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Former Georgia Lighting president opens own store

Dana Hunt, former president of Home Depot-owned Georgia Lighting has opened his own high-end lighting store in midtown Atlanta, mere steps away from his old job. Masterpiece Lighting's grand opening is June 9, that is as long as Home Depot doesn't get its way.

The mega retailer is suing Hunt, along with other previous employees, for stealing trade secretes, according to Hunt and reports in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Hunt denies these charges and said he took nothing when he left Georgia Lighting, except his 30 years of lighting and retail experience.

Hunt said he saw the writing on the wall when the management change at Home Depot gave no clear direction for the future of Georgia Lighting and started moving it between divisions. He made a verbal offer to buy the company in April 2004, and said it was met with verbal approval. Hunt then started the process to procure financial backing, but by September negotiations for the purchase stopped. In November, Home Depot announced it was closing Georgia Lighting within 60 days and integrating the product and employees into Home Depot and Expo stores.

This past January, Hunt asked for a severance package, according to the lawsuit, and decided not to stay until March as was anticipated. Instead he used the due diligence he'd started last year to buy Georgia Lighting to open his own store and filed incorporation papers. He refused to sign a non-compete with Home Depot, openly admitted he was leaving to pursue his own business and quit, forfeiting company stock options.

Home Depot closed Georgia Lighting on Jan. 28, and Hunt opened Masterpiece Lighting on Feb. 1. A month later Home Depot filed the lawsuit and also sought a temporary restraining order to close the new store. A Cobb County judge denied the injunction.

Hunt is the primary owner and financer of Masterpiece Lighting, though he has four employee partners. He's also hired about 35 former Georgia Lighting employees, including senior management and says he doesn't know how many, if any, were integrated into Home Depot Expo. Home Depot said in a statement to the AJC it asked Georgia Lighting's 106 workers to apply at Expo stores but won't disclose how many were hired.

Home Depot had not responded to phone calls at press time for this article.

"Masterpiece Lighting is what Georgia Lighting was before Home Depot bought it," Hunt said. "Home Depot made so many changes as far as service and what products we carried and we're reestablishing ourselves to be even better than before. We're going to focus on the restorations and service we were known for, the one-of-a-kind pieces, the high-end traditional and transitional product."

Hunt said the 16,000-sq.-ft. store is 90% ready for the June grand opening, and is open and doing business now, though most of the sales are custom orders at this point.

"We're not a competitor for Home Depot or the Expo; we're a high-end specialty lighting store," Hunt said. "They closed all the Georgia Lighting locations and dumped the people, they didn't integrate anything. We're working to provide the best service and product we can and we've been fortunate that our vendors and buyers have stood behind us."

Masterpiece Lighting's grand opening will be June 9.

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