City officials have moved to shut down a popular chocolate factory and candy store over a tax dispute, but the shop ignored the order and opened for business today.
Authorities came to enforce an order to cease operations at Blasius Chocolate Factory in Kensington on Wednesday, just a few days before Easter -- the year's busiest time for the candymaker.
Records show the store at 1849 E. Venango St. owes more than $12,000 in delinquent taxes.
Owner Phil Kerwick said the delinquent tax bill is due to a dispute over the amount of use-and-occupancy taxes he should pay.
On Wednesday afternoon, city authorities kicked customers out of the store and blocked the business' driveway, Kerwick said.
"It cost me thousands and thousands of dollars of business," he said.
Mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald said Kerwick was sent a warning letter in December, and his commercial-activity license was revoked at the end of January. Since then, city officials have issued five more orders for the chocolate-maker to cease operations.
Each time, Kerwick has reopened despite the orders.
"He keeps opening his business illegally and not taking care of his tax debt," McDonald said. He said Kerwick was issued a summary violation on Wednesday for remaining open.
Kerwick said the chocolate factory makes half its money in the two weeks before Easter and was puzzled by the city's attempt to shutter the business now.
"Why would you shut someone down when they're trying to make money to pay you?" he said.
Records show tax liens have been issued against Kerwick every year since 2009, with the exception of 2010.
Kerwick said his business is only open six months of the year, so he shouldn't have to pay the use-and-occupancy tax year-round. The city hasn't bought that argument.
"My position is I should only pay half," he said. "They won't give me that determination."
McDonald declined to comment on the specifics of Kerwick's situation.
A hearing about the disputed taxes is scheduled for April 28, the store owner said.
Customers appeared concerned over the shop's fate. Kerwick broke off a conversation several times to take calls from customers asking about the store's status. Several wrote responses on Blasius' Facebook page after the business posted a message saying it would open today.
"Oh yes wouldn't be Easter without your chocolate," one woman wrote.