A business that has survived for more than a century here was closed today as the result of a ongoing legal battle between its owner and city officials.
Frank Milillo, whose grandfather opened Milillo Grocery at 1102 Ludlow Ave. in 1914 five years after emigrating from Italy, said his attorney was called Tuesday by a city official who said the location would be shut down today if he was unable to meet certain building codes.
That closure happened around 11 a.m. as a small crowd of residents gathered in front of the store to show their support for the business.
The 52-year-old Hamilton resident said the closure follows months of negotiations with city officials regarding their concerns about the business since Milillo’s father died in 2015.
Milillo said he is set to inherit the business, but that transferring ownership has left the store’s future uncertain.
When Millilo’s sister went to renew the store’s license in March as she’s done each year for decades, a health department official nixed the request.
“She told her that we were going to have to operate without a license for a time,” he said. “They were going to have to inspect and it was going to be really, really costly and we were going to have to determine whether or not it was worth it to stay open.”
Milillo estimates he has spent about $10,000 completing improvements the city has required, including installing new plumbing, patching holes and addressing cosmetic issues like restaining the storefront’s original three-quarter-inch cedar-plank flooring.
Now the city wants him to construct a new, private bathroom to replace the functioning employees-only toilet with no walls in the basement, something that would cost an estimated $20,000, he said.
“I’ve done everything they want me to do and now there’s something I can’t do,” Milillo said just before the business was padlocked. “They’re shutting me down over a bathroom.”
City Manager Joshua Smith told the Journal-News he visited Milillo Grocery store last week and spoke to Milillo on the phone today.
“We had a very productive conversation and are working towards an amicable solution regarding outstanding health department issues,” Smith said. “His store is an institution in East Hamilton and provides access to groceries to a neighborhood that otherwise wouldn’t have convenient access. I’m hopeful that we will have positive resolution in the near future.”
Since the matter became public, Mark Lankford, the associate director of the Butler County Small Business Development Center, has offered his assistance.
“He said he’s been through this before with businesses here,” Milillo said. “We’re going to see what we can do to try and keep this place going.”
In the meantime, there will be loss of revenue to deal with as the battle with the city continues.
“Hopefully, it’s coming to an end and the city can leave me alone,” he said.