Tuesday, April 8, 2003

Poultry customers lost without landmark bird

By Janice Morse
The Cincinnati Enquirer

HAMILTON - A 7-foot-tall chicken statue has been plucked from its longtime roost, causing a big squawk among its fans.

"It's been a landmark ever since I was little, so it's nostalgic for me," said Ron Shiflet, 37, a lifelong Hamilton resident. "I'd lobby to have the chicken brought back. ... Route 4 doesn't look the same without it."

The rooster, made of Fiberglas, had marked the location of Danny's Poultry, a fresh chicken and egg shop, along Ohio 4 for decades. Teen-age pranksters used to steal the rooster and put it in the middle of the road or on people's lawns, until owner Danny Vitale had a concrete base made for it.

Several weeks ago, Vitale's widow, Elvira, had the big bird carted away as she prepared to sell the building that had housed Danny's Poultry since 1949.

Earl McIntosh, 68, a longtime employee of the business, re-established a chicken store next door under a new name, Dixie Chix Poultry, last month.

When the bird flew the coop, some people thought McIntosh had, too.

"I told him, 'Oh man, what happened to your chicken? When I didn't see it, I thought you went out of business,' " Shiflet said, clutching a bag of 10 chicken breasts he had bought for $7. "I come down here all the time because I love his fresh chicken. Eat these, and you'll never want chicken from a regular grocery store again."

McIntosh desperately wanted to keep the rooster, saying it was "good advertising," but Mrs. Vitale said no. She had it taken to a location she won't disclose.

She was adamant that McIntosh can't have it back, despite his pleas that its absence has hurt business. Shoppers and suppliers alike have bypassed his nondescript white concrete block building without the distinctive rooster out front, he said.

Across the street at Car-X Muffler & Brake, manager Donnie Atwood said he'll have to think of a new way to tell patrons how to get there. "We always used to use it for directions. We'd say, 'Come to the chicken. We're right across the street,' " he said.

Car-X customer Dorothy Holloway, 66, said the rooster had been a beloved, if quirky, fixture in the city for as long as she could remember. In fact, she said, her niece, Evelyn Warner, had her picture taken next to it "just for fun."

After Danny Vitale retired in 1984, McIntosh took over the shop, and paid a rental fee to Vitale. After Vitale died in 2000, McIntosh continued running the shop until last month, when Mrs. Vitale informed McIntosh he had to vacate the premises - and that she was taking the chicken.

"I'm selling the building; the business is gone. Why should I leave it there? That chicken doesn't belong in front anymore," she said.

Mrs. Vitale acknowledges that some people asked her why she was taking the rooster away.

"If they miss it, too bad. I'm in control now. Danny's Poultry is gone," she said. "Everything comes to an end."

But McIntosh says he heard a place in Indiana makes big chicken mascots - and he plans to make a "chicken run" of sorts.

"I think I'll make a dry run over there and see what they've got," he said. "One way or another, I'm gonna get me one of them chickens again."

E-mail jmorse@enquirer.com

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