9 businesses on Stockton's Miracle Mile closed due to fire and code violations

Fire and code violations force 9 Stockton businesses to close.

Vito Casiaro was stunned when he came to work Wednesday at the Empresso Coffeehouse on Stockton's historic Miracle Mile.

"We were going about our normal business day and around 9 they came in and handed us the notice to evacuate," Caisaro said. "It was a surprise, surreal."

Caisaro's business is just one of the many casualties of a surprising announcement Wednesday by the City of Stockton to "cease operations immediately and vacate the property by 1 p.m. Friday."

In all, nine businesses in one building along Pacific Avenue are affected.

Businesses located in the building include: Casa Flores Mexican Restaurant, Centrale Kitchen & Bar, Empresso Coffeehouse, Gusty’s Wings, Serendipity Salon, The Mile Restaurant & Bar, Balance Physical Therapy & Pilates, Carter Financial Solutions, and Catalyst Real Estate.

According to the city, in addition to an unpermitted residential unit, the building also has a theater that is used for large gatherings, known as the Empire Theater.

"As we worked with this property owner for over five years, we realized he was non-compliant, he was non-responsive and he was negligent in his efforts to maintain the building's safety," Stockton Fire Department Deputy Chief Matthew Duane said.

The city says since 2012, the building owner, Christopher Bennitt, has been cited repeatedly for fire and building safety violations.

Some of the violations include: repeated remodeling without permits; removing and placing walls that do not meet state-mandated fire safety codes; changes to walls creating one-way-in and one-way-out; potentially preventing escape during a fire or other structural failure; dangerous, outdated and overloaded electrical wiring and numerous extension cords run within and between businesses; inadequate or non-existent fire alarm and sprinkler systems; and numerous other changes made without permits and inspections.

An agreement was signed by Benniitt with the city in October 2016 to give him 90 days to determine a plan to evaluate what it would take to correct the violations. 

However, the city says the agreement expired with no action taken by Bennitt.

This afternoon, businesses impacted like Empresso Coffeehouse were busy clearing out their property as a city "Notice to Vacate" sign was taped to the business front door.

"It's sad. It's a bad day," Casiaro, who employs 25 workers at his Pacific Avenue location, said.

Casiaro says he has another location still open in Stockton at 1231 West March Lane in the College Square Shopping Center. 

A call for comment was placed to Christopher Bennitt's attorney Max Steinheimer.

As of this writing, the call has not been returned.

© 2017 KXTV-TV


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