Devastating fire is still hurting business

By Joseph Gallagher

An empty lot full of gravel, dirt and demolition equipment is all that remains of what was once a bustling strip of retail stores in Longwood’s Southern Boulevard shopping area.

On the night of October 28, four-alarm fire tore through a taxpayer, destroying five businesses and adding to the burdens of the surviving stores nearby.

The fire stopped smoldering by 10 a.m. on October 29 and the Emergency Response Unit of the Department of Small Business Services (SBS) was on the scene to assist the businesses affected by the blaze that day.

At a meeting organized by the SBS on November 4, business owners received an array of information on financing, insurance and licensing, as well as pro-bono legal assistance.

“It was a good meeting, very helpful,” said Marilyn Santos, co-owner of Rincon Musical, a specialty Latin music and musical instrument retailer that was destroyed in the fire. “There were different city agencies there as well as politicians.”

Santos and her husband are considering re-opening their store, which had been in that location for more than 10 years, if and when the landlord rebuilds.

“Because of the holidays, I haven’t had time to follow-up with the city agencies,” said Santos, who owns six other Rincon locations. “I have other businesses that I also have to concentrate on.”

The other businesses completely destroyed were Apollo Jewelry, which had been in business for 18 years, Florsheim Shoes, open for 42 years, Man-Fix men’s clothing store and Ponce De Leon Federal Bank.

The bank posted a sign at the site of the fire announcing that would reopen the third week of December at 952 Southern Blvd., above the Rite-Aid.

But nearby businesses are also still reeling. McDonalds, at 982 Southern Blvd. suffered water damage, and has had no gas service since the fire. The fast-food chain is waiting for the Department of Buildings to give approval to re-open.

Dan Meenan, manager of Sols Pharmacy at 988 Southern Blvd. said his store was shut down by flooding in the basement, and as of mid-December was open but operating with no heat and temporary electricity.

“The fire came at a bad time with the recession and all,” Meenan said. “I’m sure business has dropped somewhat. People use to cash their checks at the bank and spread the money around the neighborhood.”

Water damage shut down Golden Dreams Jewelry, next door to Rincon Musical, for a week after the fire. Annette Perez, manager of the five-year-old shop, said it has experienced a marked drop in business. However, Perez says that business has been affected by a confluence of factors including the recession, not just the fire.

Phillip Sam, manager of Ashby Furniture at 998 Southern Blvd. says that more people are choosing to walk down the opposite side of the street from the cleared out lot, which has affected business somewhat.

“Business is good but a little slow,” Sam said. “There is much less foot traffic, which doesn’t help matters.”

Help is still available for businesses affected by the fire. Postiglione said that businesses in need of assistance should call 311 and ask for the Department of Small Business Services’ Emergency Response Unit.

A version of this story appeared in the December 2009/January 2010 issue of The Hunts Point Express.

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