Fire devastates shopping area

by Joe Hirsch

A four-alarm fire on Hunts Point Avenue between 163rd Street and Westchester Avenue gutted five stores and damaged two others on Wednesday night, October 28.

No one was injured, but the five stores will be demolished next week, say city officials.

The blaze raised worries about the approaching holiday season. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. issued a statement saying he was concerned about an “important commercial Bronx business area,” and added, “We want to be sure that the Southern Boulevard BID remains strong and vibrant.”

The McDonald’s on one side of the destruction, and the Golden Dreams Jewelry store on the other side both jutted up against the buildings, and are temporarily closed due to water damage resulting from the Fire Department’s efforts to put out the blaze.

The stores that were destroyed were the Florsheim Shoe store, also known as Buster Brown; Man-Fix clothing store; Rincon Musical, which sold hard-to-find Latin music and Latin percussion instruments; Apollo Jewelry; and Ponce de Leon Federal bank. The bank has announced it will set up a mobile bank on Hunts Point Avenue next week so customers will not be inconvenienced.

The fire broke out shortly before 10 p.m., causing the apartment building at 966 Hunts Point Avenue, next door to the burnt-out stores, to be evacuated.

“All you could see was red from the building,” said Jesus Cortes, 15, who lives in the apartment house.

Cortes and his family, along with all other tenants at 966, were forced to stand on the street across Hunts Point Avenue until the flames were contained Friday morning, watching while their homes appeared to be in jeopardy of getting swallowed by the fire.

“I was watching the World Series when I smelled a lot of smoke,” said Kelvin Valentin, 27, who lives on the fourth floor.

“When we came out of the building, we saw a big orange glow,” said Valentin, who added that he could see the flames lapping at the outside of the building from the building next door as he was running down the stairway to get out.

“People got paranoid when they saw the flame,” he said, recalling how tenants rushed for the stairs.

The city’s Office of Emergency Management is overseeing all operations involving the property and the businesses. A meeting has been scheduled for next week between the owners of the businesses and city officials to decide what happens next.

The city’s Small Business Services was able to make small donations to businesses destroyed by a fire on Southern Boulevard in December 2008.

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