Goodness gracious, it's a save for Blasius

PHOTOS: GABRIELA BARRANTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER A customer picks out chocolates yesterday . . . just under the gun.
PHOTOS: GABRIELA BARRANTES / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER A customer picks out chocolates yesterday . . . just under the gun.
Posted: April 18, 2014

BLESS ME, Father, for I have sinned. I lied to a cop.

On Holy Thursday.

At least I desecrated the Lenten season for a good reason:

Chocolates.

Not just any chocolates, but silken wonders by Blasius' Own Make. Including a solid, dark-chocolate bunny for a co-worker and a hollow, white-chocolate one for my boss. Two pounds of cherry cordials for a fellow reporter's sweet tooth. Big coconut eggs - the kind you slice into sticky slabs - for the editor. And for the rest of my Daily News family, shiny white boxes of thickly dipped chocolate pretzels, nuts, caramels and jellies.

And, sigh, buttercreams. The sublime, signature confections can make me forget that, when the Lord died for my sins, he probably didn't include the sin of lying to a police officer who was just trying to do her damn job.

She was one of many cops I found inside Blasius' Kensington shop. They were enforcing a shutdown the city had imposed on Blasius' building on Wednesday for nonpayment of taxes.

I'd heard about the closure yesterday morning, when Blasius' patriarch, Phil Kerwick, sputtered in frustration to 6ABC "Action News."

"These last four days before Easter make or break me," Kerwick said. "I don't think I'll be able to survive this year."

So I called him to ask what he would do, now that the circa-1926 company was shuttered.

"I am open for business! I refuse to submit to this fascist city!" he cried. "You wanna buy chocolate? Come on down!"

Wow, was that even legal? I didn't care. If Blasius was going under, I wanted one last buttercream before they played taps.

I raced around the newsroom, taking orders. Five minutes later, I was bombing up I-95 toward Blasius' old brick factory on Venango Street, giddy that I was about to buy candy from a guy who was forbidden to sell it.

Oh, yes. I live on the edge.

Blasius used to be owned by Kerwick, solo, but he transferred the company to his adult children after a serious illness that landed him in the hospital for a month last winter.

The company's real-estate and business taxes are all up to date. But Kerwick, who still owns Blasius' building, has been in a long-running fight with the city over use-and-occupancy taxes that he must pay as the company's landlord. Kerwick says he was told that he owes the city $12,000, plus another $9,000 in fines and penalties.

His lawyer, Richard Hoy, dubs the sums "ridiculous." Blasius is open only 90 days a year, but Kerwick is being taxed as though Blasius is a 12-month operation.

"With all the tax deadbeats in the city, they come after a little candy shop?" Hoy asks. "Are you kidding me?"

Someone realized that the best way to let Kerwick know the city meant business would be to shut him down the week before Easter, when Blasius racks up most of its sales. The city took similar action on Valentine's Day, but Hoy got the place reopened before any hearts were broken.

Yesterday, when I arrived at the factory, five squad cars jammed the block. I sprinted into its retail shop and ducked past the cops who were dealing with the mouthy Kerwick, whose lawyer kept telling him to pipe down.

"Sir, you are this close to being arrested," said an officer who, frankly, didn't deserve the guff that Kerwick was giving him.

" Dad, shut up," Kerwick's daughter hissed from the register, where she was calming a customer desperate to pick up her preordered eggs.

Behind her waited a woman who said, "I am not leaving until I'm checked out!" She was a Kensington native, she explained, who now lived in New York and had driven all the way to Blasius that morning with her son to buy her annual Easter sweets.

While everyone's attention was on Kerwick, I sprinted around the shop, grabbing candy before the cops lost their patience with the situation and hustled us all onto the sidewalk.

But as I got to the register, I felt a journalist's pang. Should I forget shopping and instead interview the New York lady, and Kerwick and his daughter? Should I snap some photos, in case this was the last time anyone set foot in this historic confectionery? Should I ask the cops about the difficulty of getting a building owner to respect the order they were expected to enforce?

Or should I get my chocolate while the getting was good?

C'mon. It's Holy Week.

As I started unloading my basket at the register, an officer who'd been preoccupied suddenly noticed me.

"Ma'am, you can't buy anything - this business is closed," she said evenly.

"But, please! My whole family is waiting for this!" I lied.

"I'm sorry," she said. Then she paused. "Did you already start paying?"

"Yes!" I lied. "I did!"

"She did!" lied a worker from across the aisle.

"Fine," she said. "But you're the last one."

Before she could change her mind, I pushed my candy onto the counter and mentally rushed the gentleman ( c'mon, c'mon, c'mon!) who rang it up.

"That's $167.20," he said.

I have never bought so much candy in my life, nor felt so dumbly gleeful about it.

I'd call my haul a miracle. But the better one is that Kerwick made a truce with the city. Yesterday, he made a partial payment on his tax bill. So Blasius is back in business, in time for Easter.

Sweet.


Email: polaner@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-2217

On Twitter: @RonniePhilly

Blog: ph.ly/RonnieBlog

Columns: ph.ly/Ronnie

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