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Hilltop Sign Returned; Incident a 'Misunderstanding'

Iconic sign back in the Donato family's possession

Earlier this week, it seemed the had one last story to tell—the iconic sign that once lit up Route 59 .

The sign was supposed to go to the daughters of Nick Donato, Jr., one of the eatery's founding brothers. But during the building's demolition, the sign was allegedly sold as scrap metal for $100—and the daughters feared they had lost a part of history.

But now the sign is back in Donato custody, and Robin Miller—Nick Donato, Jr.'s partner of 35 years—said the whole incident was a misunderstanding.

"Leon Johnson, the man who had the sign, wasn't holding it from us," Miller said. Johnson, who is an expert in restoring old signs and artifacts, believed he had purchased the sign in good faith. He bought the sign to restore it, and spent hours diligently and carefully taking down the neon letters, said Allan Kidd, Johnson's attorney.

"My client is a collector of neon—he's been doing it for past 25 or 30 years, if not more," Kidd explained. "He purchased the sign from someone he thought had the authority to sell it."

Kidd noted Johnson had no intention of holding the sign hostage, and was not aware of the Donato family's connection to the sign when they first reached out to him.

"In essence he went to a garage sale and bought a bicycle, only to find the seller might not have the right to sell that bicycle," Kidd continued. "He had no idea who these folks were."

"[But] everybody walked away happy," Kidd added.

"It was all very amicable," Miller said.

The sign was returned to the Donato clan at about 10 a.m. this morning, with present. The Hilltop letters will travel to New Hampshire with Nick Donato, Jr.'s daughter, and Leon Johnson was refunded $100 by the worker who sold him the sign.

Helen September 02, 2011 at 04:36 PM
Glad it worked out, thanks for the follow up Patch!
Maya September 02, 2011 at 05:43 PM
See...People ARE good!!!!!!!
robin miller September 02, 2011 at 05:48 PM
Thanks, Kevin, for setting this matter straight! Now the sign can go to Tracy, Nick's daughter, who was promised it. I'd also like to thank Det. Frawley, Det. Ryder and P.O. Dometruits of Orangetown Police who handled this matter most professionally. Robin Miller

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