Smith Brothers General Store after bricks fall from side

Old buildings on Fourth Avenue South deteriorate from neglect. The city of Clinton has purchased several of the buildings and recently condemned Smith Brothers General Store.

CLINTON — The Smith Brother’s General Store can’t remain where it is. The neglected building is unsafe and must be vacated, the city said this month.

But Smitty’s General Story at 1014 S. Fourth St. is a Clinton icon that residents want to save.

The city released a statement Monday critical of “inaccurate and unfair statements concerning the city of Clinton’s alleged ‘takeover’” of Smith’s store.

“Unfortunately, the City was left with no choice but to placard the structure, after sections of one of its walls fell into the right-of-way, endangering motorists and pedestrians,” the city wrote Monday.

“Under Iowa law and Clinton ordinances, the City may declare a building unsafe for habitation and prevent occupation of the structure until the unsafe issues are corrected.”

“It was deemed dangerous by a structural engineer,” Clinton City Administrator Matt Brooke said earlier this month. “We gave him (owner Steve Smith) notice that he needed to do something with the building several weeks ago.”

The city gave Smith until Sept. 27 to fix the problem, Brooke said. About that time, bricks began falling from the building, and the city cordoned the sidewalk with caution tape.

“We have the other buildings in the block that are in bad shape as well,” Brooke said. “You cannot take just one down.

“We own the one right next door, ... and we just purchased Paul Steines’s building,” Brooke said two weeks ago. Steines, doing business as SAP Rentals, deeded 1004 S. Fourth St. to the City on Oct. 7.

Smith said in September that the city condemned the building and will demolish it, but Brooke said Smith is responsible for the building.

“He is the owner, he is responsible,” said Brooke.

The city and Downtown Clinton Alliance offered to help Smith find another place for his store, Brooke said. “We actually did some really good outreach.”

“[Smith] hasn’t been receptive to any of the options we’ve given him,” Karen Rowell, director of Downtown Clinton Alliance said Monday.

Smith is looking for 3,000 or 4,000 square feet, Rowell said. Smith looked at five or six downtown buildings, but he hasn’t agreed on rent for any of them.

“We’ve had some people offer to help him for the first month or two,” said Rowell. “I really thought it would be a good fit for downtown.”

Rowell looked for buildings in the Lyons district as well, she said.

“He doesn’t want to buy a building,” Rowell said, and he says he doesn’t have the money to fix the building he’s in now.

“His family has been an icon, and they’ve had this great location,” Rowell said. “I’m sad about losing the building, but this is years of neglect.”

The city said the cost of repairing the building vastly exceeds the building’s worth, and that Smith cannot afford to fix it.

“While it may ultimately fall to the City to procure the building and incur the massive cost of taking down the building, that was never the goal or intention of City officials,” the city said.

“The City Council and City staff love and revere this storied local business and there is nothing City officials would like more than to find a way to save the building. Unfortunately, it appears unlikely that the large sum of money necessary to repair the structure and make it safe will be available, either through local taxpayer funds or through State grants.

“This is an unfortunate situation,” the city said, “but it is inaccurate and irresponsible for citizens to suggest the City is acting in a heavy-handed manner. The City’s obligation is to keep citizens, including the occupants of crumbling structures, safe by any reasonable and lawful means possible. This City has no choice but to act in the most responsible and reasonable way possible.”

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