Fire and safety violations close down Miracle Mile businesses

Bailey Kirkeby, Co-Editor-in-Chief, News Editor, Managing Editor, Entertainment Columnist

More than a year after nine family-run businesses housed in the Stockton Empire Theatre building on Miracle Mile were shut down due to fire and safety violations, the loss of these companies is still affecting students at Bear Creek.

Arguably the most notable business shuttened from the Empire Theatre building is Empresso Coffeehouse — a former favorite of Bear Creek students seeking a relaxed environment to do homework or socialize with friends while enjoying a variety of drinks.

“I love the whole ambiance of Empresso, both inside and out,” junior Beatrice Soledad said.  “The whole atmosphere is really comforting, [and] it just sends good vibes.”

When city officials placed a notice to vacate on the doors of the nine businesses, the business owners were shocked.

“We were going about our normal business day, and around nine, [officials] came in and handed us the notice to evacuate,” co-owner of Empresso Coffeehouse Vito Casciaro said in an interview with ABC 10.  “It was a surprise, surreal.”

“It was really hard and unexpected,” Centrale Kitchen & Bar worker and Bear Creek alumna Chloe Johnson said.  “So many people lost their jobs, their businesses, their livelihoods. It hit my family especially hard because my stepmom worked there also, and she lost her job too.”

Another major establishment that fell victim to the shutdown is the heart of the building, the Empire Theatre itself.  The theatre provided a space for concerts, comedy and drama shows, and large gatherings, such as wedding receptions and birthdays.

“I’m sad that yet another arts thing is being… shut down,” sophomore Olivia Espitia said.  “We deserve these experience and it’s really sad that they’ve become less accessible with the closing of that theatre.”

The building that was shut down housed eight other businesses — Casa Flores Mexican Restaurant, Centrale Kitchen & Bar, Gusty’s Wings, The Mile Restaurant & Bar, Serendipity Salon, Balance Physical Therapy & Pilates, Carter Financial Solutions, and Catalyst Real Estate — that provided beloved eateries and firms for professional endeavours. 

“I felt especially bad for my boss because he owned Centrale, and he lost everything,” Johnson said.

According to ABC 10, the building owner, Christopher Bennitt, was cited for a number of safety violations, such as dangerous, overloaded electrical wiring and non-existent fire alarm or sprinkler systems.  After Bennitt’s failure to uphold an agreement with the city and determine a plan of action to fix these violations, officials claimed that they had to do something.

“We [needed] to [take action] in order to avoid catastrophe or tragedy,” Stockton’s director of community development David Kwong said in an interview with “The Record.”

It is unknown to both the community and the ex-Miracle Mile business owners when or if they will be able to move back to their former locations.  In the meantime, students are still able to get their caffeine fix at Empresso’s new location on March Lane in the College Square Shopping Center.

Although the Stockton Empire Theatre has not opened in a new location, Miracle Mile’s That’s Showbiz Theatre Company offers a suitable alternative for those looking for an entertaining theatrical performance.

“I’m glad that we still have some opportunities to see live theatre locally,” Espitia said.  “But [I’m] also kind of sad because there aren’t a whole lot of options for live theatre [in Stockton].”

Three former business owners affected by the shutdown are now suing the city of Stockton for allegedly violating their constitutional rights — a claim stemming from the city’s failure to notify the owners of the fire and safety codes Bennitt was violating.