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For Locksmith, Compensation Is The Key

By STEVEN GOODE, Courant Staff Writer

October 11, 2007

The upstairs tenants are long gone.

The package store next door closed about two weeks ago.

And soon, 93-year-old Salvatore Scalia is supposed to be the last one out of the High Street building hard by I-84 in Hartford.

Scalia's business, City Key Safe & Lock Service, is being forced out of the storefront it has occupied since 2001 to make way for the city's new public safety complex.

The city owns the building, but Scalia has refused the city's offer to compensate him for moving and says he won't go willingly. He says the offer of $2,000 is too low for all the years he has spent in the city.

And what if they try to make him leave the run-down, musty storefront with holes in the ceiling, broken-down furniture and buckled wall panels?

"I'll call 911," Scalia said. City records indicate Scalia might have until late October to vacate, but he says he has been told that if he doesn't leave by Friday, the city might reduce its offer.

The Boston transplant, who started out making keys at S.S. Kresge in 1948 and opened his own business in 1955 at Church and Trumbull streets, admits he isn't exactly making a killing where he is now. Scalia only averages about five customers a day, and even operated in the red in 2006.

He has been robbed a few times, too.

His quarrel with the city isn't even about a desire to continue working, although he said it will be hard to adjust at first.

For Scalia, it's about compensation for a working life spent in the city. He estimates he has made hundreds of thousands of keys for people in Hartford, including boxing great Willy Pep. Before Scalia's eyesight deserted him several years ago, he could immediately tell what company made a key and what it was for.

"I want $20,000. I want the maximum," he said, referring to the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Policies Act and the highest fixed payment available to owners who are forced to discontinue their businesses.

A letter from the corporation counsel's office dated July 31 notified Scalia of the city's intention to demolish the building and told him that he was required to move within 90 days.

City officials did not respond to questions about Scalia's situation. Sarah Barr, a spokeswoman for Mayor Eddie A. Perez, said she was unable to reach the appropriate lawyer in the corporation counsel's office, but added that shop owners were given ample time to relocate and were provided financial assistance.

Scalia said the formula the city used to come up with an offer is flawed because it is based on net profits of $4,200 from 2005 and a loss of $2,500 in 2006, and doesn't take into account the difficulties he has encountered over the last several years.

His son and business partner, Dennis, died suddenly in 2004 at the age of 48. And since Scalia's vision problems became more acute in the last few years, he has been forced to rely on Dial-a-Ride every day to get to and from work.

"The formula is no good, it don't balance," Scalia said, adding that he was willing to let the city have his voluminous stock of house, car, suitcase and skeleton keys and equipment as part of the deal. He estimates it's worth $10,000.

Regardless of the city's plan, Scalia said he intends to keep going to work until it does the right thing.

Then he'll retire and go home to Windsor.

"At my age, to hell with this," he said. "I've got more years ahead of me than I thought I had."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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