Son of Batsakes Hat Shop founder dies at 92

Cincinnati businessman George P. Batsakes, 92, died Saturday, April 30. He was the longtime co-owner of Batsakes Brothers Dry Cleaners, which closed in 2000, and the youngest son of Batsakes hat shopthe founder of Pete Batsakes.

“Until the day he died, when his nurses recognized Batsakes from the hat shop, he lit up,” his son Peter Batsakes said. “Being part of something so special meant the world to him.”

Batsakes was part of a dedicated Greek American family who for three generations served downtown Cincinnati, first as fruit vendors and shoe shiners, then as dry cleaners and hat makers.

In 1907, Greek immigrants Pete Batsakes and his brother (also named George) opened the millinery. “As soon as he was old enough to hold a broom,” said the surviving son, young George and his brother, Jim, worked alongside their father. In the mid-1950s, after the boys had served in the United States Navy, they owned and operated the namesake dry cleaners next door.

“My dad was incredibly proud to be a part of what his dad created,” said Peter Batsakes. “It gave him the opportunity to meet baseball players, presidents, singers and actors, creating memories and stories that he shared with his grandchildren until the day he died.”

Batsakes Bros.  Hat Shop and Batsakes dry cleaners on Sixth and Vine streets, Cincinnati, in 1968.

It was a family business on the corner of Sixth and Walnut streets in the heart of downtown Cincinnati for 93 years, until the new millennium gave way to new developments.

In 2000, the two companies were asked to move to make way for what is now the Center for Contemporary Art. At the time, the planning department aimed to build an arts district downtown. Five years earlier, the Aronoff Center for the Arts opened around the corner; the building was designed by renowned Argentine American architect César Pelli and was considered a boon to the city’s cultural community. The late Zaha Hadid eventually landed the CAC building commission, but Batsakes Brothers Dry Cleaners (also called J&G Batsakes Dry Cleaners) closed before then.

Enquirer columnist Cliff Radel wrote on the last day of operation for the dry cleaners that the area’s development plan was not complete and that many locals thought the decision to move the two businesses was unfair . Despite being offered a $20,000 moving fee to a proposed facility in Over-the-Rhine, as well as a storefront downtown, the Batsakes decided to close shop. It would take at least $180,000 more to move their cleaning equipment and buy new parts, Radel reported.

They would also have to pay rent in a new property. By then, Batsakes had already long owned his building on Sixth Street.

Batsakes’ uncle, Gus Miller, who emigrated from Greece in the 1950s and took over Batsakes Hat Shop in 1973, decided to move. He moved into a storefront on the first floor under the Terrace Plaza Hotel at the corner of Sixth and Vine streets near Fountain Square. Miller’s work attracted local Cincinnatians and outsiders during his decades of service, including football manager Paul Brown; Presidents George and George W. Bush and Ronald Reagan; Italian opera singer Luciano Pavarotti; and American musical artists Tony Bennett, Bob Dylan and Snoop Dogg.

Miller declined to comment on this obituary.

Batsakes Hat Shop moved into retail space on the ground floor of the Terrace Plaza Hotel building in 2001.

George P. Batsakes was born on December 21, 1929 in Cincinnati to Pete and Helen Batsakes. He served as a naval airbrush for four years until his honorable discharge on March 30, 1955. At one point in his military career, Batsakes acted as an official interpreter for his aircraft carrier, the USS Bennington, during his tour European in Greece. .

Batsakes returned home to marry his fiancée, Stella (née Jonson). She died on August 24, 2006, at the age of 75.

George P. Batsakes served as a naval airbrush during the Korean War.

Batsakes’ dedication to his family and to the city of Cincinnati lives on today. During his lifetime he was an active member of Holy Trinity-St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church and served as chairman of the parish council in 1968. He was instrumental in guiding the architectural and construction process of the church’s current home in Finneytown. He also helped develop the Greek Panegyri festival.

After retiring from dry cleaners, Batsakes spent much of his time with his three grandchildren, George, Stephanie and Andrew, whom he called “papua”. He is survived by his sister Maria Sakellariou and son Peter, who described him as having laughed and joked until his last days.

Family members will hold a visitation Thursday at Holy Trinity-St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church at 7000 Winton Road, Cincinnati, OH 45224 from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. The funeral service will follow.

Sydney Franklin reports on real estate activity in Cincinnati. Follow her on Twitter @sydreyfrank_ and send story tips to [email protected]

Laura J. Boyer