Business owner John Stavros, embattled and tired and more than a bit bitter, has permanently closed one of South Jersey's most recognized landmarks: Olga's Diner.
The reason, in part, is its location, he says - the crossroads of Routes 70 and 73, next to another endangered regional landmark, the Marlton Circle. It's been subject to on-again, off-again plans for redevelopment since the 1990s.
The restaurant has been shuttered since October, when electricity was turned off after Stavros was cited for owing PSE&G $17,000. The diner also closed briefly over the summer after the state said Stavros failed to pay $37,000 in taxes.
The 77-year-old first-generation Greek American said he felt under siege. His three children have no interest in continuing the family business, and he doesn't have the energy to save it, he said in a thick, halting accent.
"Fighting these people - I just got tired of it," he said of the bureaucracy that he says has worked against him. "There's too many of them, not enough of us."
The electricity was cut off without notice, he said.
"There were people eating, there were people in the restroom, and they just shut off the lights without five minutes warning," he said.
PSE&G spokeswoman Bonnie Sheppard said Olga's power was shut down on numerous occasions this year because of several billing problems. Through the years, PSE&G has made "numerous attempts to assist him to become current, including setting up deferred payment arrangements."
Stavros said the diner's fate was sealed in the early 1990s when the state first threatened to redo the roadway anomaly known as the Marlton Circle. Early in the spring, the state Department of Transportation is scheduled to begin construction on a Route 73 overpass over Route 70.
"They say they're going to do the overpass; they're going to do this and they're going to do that," Stavros said. "We didn't know from day to day if we're going to have a driveway."
A developer is expected to make an offer any day now to put a strip mall or high-rise office building on Olga's site, according to Jack Philbin of Weichert Realty. The asking price: $9 million.
Philbin said the developer wasn't deterred by the prospect of the overpass, which would complicate access to the property. He said, however, it might affect the sale price.
Stavros said, "They're afraid; they're afraid of what the state is going to do."
In the meantime, Stavros has entered into an uneasy retirement at his home in Cherry Hill.
"If you work 60 years and then all of a sudden you're done, it's not so good," he said. "It's like going 60, 70 miles an hour and putting on your brakes."
The diner, named after Stavros' mother, Olga, opened in Camden in 1946 before moving to a then-rural Evesham, popularly known as Marlton, in 1959.
The eight-foot red neon sign, the popular bakery, the standard diner fare - all of that attracted generations of commuters, teenagers, and travelers to and from the Shore.
Stavros knows his livelihood is going the way of many other family businesses.
"Too many of them, if you ask me," he said.