(March 1, 2019) The rift between Toy Town Antiques and the Town of Snow Hill became wider and deeper Wednesday, after town officials forced the store to close and then cordoned it off with caution tape.
The reason given for the closure, according to Toy Town owner Richard Seaton, was that he had no occupancy permit, even though he had been operating the store for more than two years.
Seaton said Snow Hill Code Enforcement Officer Jon Hill came to the store earlier in the day with a sheriff’s deputy and “gave me a civil citation for not having an occupancy (permit), and said that my court date would be sent to me.”
“Well, we’ve not had [a certificate of occupancy] for two years, because [Hill] promised me one and never gave me the damned thing,” Seaton said. “I’ve been open for two and a half years. In other words, can you tell they’re trying to play a little bit of hardball here?”
Seaton was enticed to set up shop in Snow Hill by then-Mayor Charlie Dorman, who offered him a sweetheart deal that seems to have irritated the Town Council ever since.
In 2016, Seaton was operating in Berlin but was convinced to move to Snow Hill when the town offered to deed to him a historic but run-down building on the corner of Market and Washington streets if he made certain renovations over a five-year period.
Last year, however, town officials asked for an accelerated timeline, citing safety concerns, despite the fact both parties signed a five-year agreement.
The dispute spilled over into a Town Council meeting in December, when business owners and elected officials tangled, and tensions since then have only gotten worse.
Town Manager Kelly Pruitt on Wednesday referred all questions on the matter to attorney Rena Patel, who was not immediately available for comment.
Councilwoman Jenny Hall only said on the matter, “There is just no end.”
Early Wednesday evening, a small group of local business owners gathered inside Diana Nolte’s West Green Street shop.
“We don't understand why our town government can’t be more supportive of downtown businesses,” she said.
Nolte said the business community in general was “afraid and demoralized.”
“We just lost [restaurant] Harvest Moon on Saturday. We have two contracts right down the street from us for The Palette and The Palette Pantry, which we understand have fallen through. It’s vacant from here down to the corner, when I go walk out the door with businesses not open. So, we’re very, very discouraged.”
For his part, Seaton said he is considering a lawsuit to reclaim the $150,000 to $200,000 he has already invested in the property.
“I am not welcome in this town anymore. They’re doing everything they can do to get me out of here,” he said.