Hamilton Main Street business owners worry about city potentially buying retail complex

Scattering Joy Craft Boutique on Main Street in Hamilton is one of the businesses concerned the city government plans to buy their building for another development, forcing them to move elsewhere. In April of 2020, the business put hearts on its windows like many businesses in Butler County showing support for the community during the coronavirus pandemic. One way the business survived the pandemic was by making masks to protect people from COVID-19. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
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Scattering Joy Craft Boutique on Main Street in Hamilton is one of the businesses concerned the city government plans to buy their building for another development, forcing them to move elsewhere. In April of 2020, the business put hearts on its windows like many businesses in Butler County showing support for the community during the coronavirus pandemic. One way the business survived the pandemic was by making masks to protect people from COVID-19. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Owners of businesses in one of Main Street’s more distinctive retail/office complexes showed up Wednesday at Hamilton City Council, concerned a proposed city purchase will force out 11 businesses inside.

The 11 businesses are located in the two buildings on the north side of the 500 block of Main Street, which look like one structure, the business owners said. The shops include Moondog’s Incense and Things, Silkworm Tattoo, and Scattering Joy Crafts Boutique, which opened two weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The businesses are in a precarious position because at least some of them, including long-term tenants, have been operating without leases.

Michael Larkin, owner of Moondog’s, said the businesses have been told Hamilton city government plans to buy and tear down the complex, and replace it with one or more businesses.

“I don’t see how throwing out small businesses is helping the city in any way,” Larkin said. “Making room for new businesses by throwing others out just doesn’t make sense to me.”

“I’m devastated in thinking that this building is going to go,” said Jamissa Lawson, owner of Scattering Joy. “I have invested my life. And when I say that, in March of 2020, I opened that business on a dream, on a prayer and faith in God that it was going to work out.”

In addition to the 11 businesses in the buildings, other small businesses will be affected, Lawson told council. Her store gives craft classes to people from as far as Cincinnati, Wilmington and Hillsboro, she said.

“I have 12 vendors that are in my store — small businesses, five of which have received their LLC since being in my store, so they are paying the city taxes, they’re paying their sales taxes also,” Lawson said.

“What do you guys plan on doing with us?” she asked. “Where are we going to go?”

City Manager Joshua Smith told the group, “You have to have a willing seller to sell a building.”

“If it’s something the city is interested in pursuing, then the city would sit down with the chamber of commerce and work with you on relocation, things of that nature,” Smith told business owners.

Larkin told Smith, “My source is my landlord. And according to him, as of today, he was told in no uncertain terms that the city would not help to relocate, period, and they wanted everybody out before the close of the deal, period.”

Larkin’s longtime landlord is accountant Stephen Bossert. Larkin said in an interview the city is offering Bossert $650,000 for his half of the complex.

“They’re offering him almost double what the place is worth,” Larkin said. The Butler County Auditor’s Office values the property at $304,330.

Bossert could not be reached before this newspaper’s deadline for confirmation of the price he was offered.

City officials have not revealed plans for the property, or for which developer they want to secure it.

When asked by text message Oct. 19 who at the city was the person who could discuss the city’s alleged efforts to buy the property, Smith did not respond.

Two days later, city spokesman Brandon Saurber wrote: “On occasion during executive session, council and city administration discuss various properties for a variety of purposes. If a property was discussed and it is decided to move forward, it will become public in a future council agenda.”

Smith told the crowd Wednesday city officials evaluate “different real-estate opportunities with different developers all the time. Is there a done deal on this property? No. Has it been discussed? Yes. Is it going to be discussed more? Yes. Can I tell you tonight what the resolution of that discussion’s going to be? I can’t, because I don’t know what it’s going to be.”

“However,” Smith added, “if something does proceed with that property, I don’t think it’s anyone’s intent to harm a small business or anything of that nature. First of all, you all have leases. I’m not sure how long your leases are for, but everyone has leases that have to be honored, first and foremost.”

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