Tuesday, February 13, 2001

Hats off to Batsakes

Patrons, neighbors welcome store to new location

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Gus Miller reopened Batsakes at Sixth and Vine Monday.
(Gary Landers photo)
| ZOOM |
        Gus Miller, a man of quality hats and flowing words, had a hard time manufacturing an uninterrupted sentence on Monday. His Batsakes Hat Shop, a Cincinnati landmark since 1907, reopened at a new downtown site amid flowers, well-wishes and returning repeat customers, after a contentious forced relocation by the city.

        “Ahhh,” Mr. Miller, 67, said in a smooth Greek accent, “I'll stic-- ("Hi Ken!'), I'll stick around anoth--- ("Come on in, gentlemen') ... maybe another 40 years ("See you next week, Mark'). ... I'm not sure about 50, though.”

        Only Cincinnati institutions talk like that, this one having arrived from Guoves, Greece, at age 17 and eventually taking over the business of his uncle, Pete Batsakes.

        His customers have included Luciano Pavarotti, Bill Cosby, George Bush, Red Skelton and Paul Brown.

        Batsakes' new home is Sixth and Vine, its old home of nine decades was at Sixth and Walnut. The hat and shoe-shine specialist had been closed for two weeks, following a drawn-out battle in which the city took over the old building by eminent domain. A $33.9 million Contemporary Arts Center is planned there.

        The city ultimately gave Batsakes a $175,000 low-interest loan to finance the relocation. But on Monday, talk was of the future, not the past.

        From the shoe-shine stand, Paine Webber investment adviser Mark Casella looked up from his newspaper and smiled.

        “It's a chance to get off the merry-go-round,” Mr. Casella said of Batsakes. He stepped down and gave shoe-shine specialist Charlie Walker a $2 tip on a $2 shine.

        “It's therapy,” Mr. Casella explained. “The location is different, but the people are the same.”

        Monday's reopening drew a floral plant from longtime customer Perry Moran and a flower bouquet from downtown neighbor Sophia's restaurant. Then, as Mr. Miller was in mid-sentence, a special Viva silk-flower arrangement arrived — in an old hat — from longtime customers Jack Klein, Herb Byer and Red Solomon.

        The new store is smaller. Boxes are everywhere. But an endless parade of passers-by waved through the famous Batsakes window hat-display. Hat sales were brisk, and at one point, all five shoe-shine seats were taken.

        “We'll see,” said Mr. Walker, who's been shining shoes at Batsakes since 1976. “It seems like the years fly by.”


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