I visited some of the merchants I know on East 204th St. this afternoon, and I'll give you a bit of a rundown on what I learned in a moment, but first I wanted to share with you what I've been mulling all day: There have now been 3 fires in the past 7 months on Bainbrdige/E. 204th St. We called the Fire Department today and not only did they tell us that the fire on Oct. 31, which obliterated 14 bussinesses is still under investigation, but that the smaller one in April affecting some of the same businesses is still under investigation as well. Maybe I'm missing something -- and I'm hardly an expert on this -- but how can that be? How can the cause a fire in April, the remains of which have long been obliterated by the Bainbridge Bakery's renovation and its encore destruction, still be undetermined? If it's not possible to determine the cause, then tell us that. Don't keep a frightened community waiting over 7 months.
A week or two after the Oct. 31 fire, I was chatting with a fire marshal near the site. I asked him what kind of things he looks for when he investigates. He laughed heartily. "You want ME to tell YOU what I look for?" he said. "That would be like giving you the keys to the kingdom." Now, what he meant by this is that if he told me and my readers what he looks for that would be kind of like publishing a "how to" for arsonists on how to cover their tracks. Well, he can can keep his keys to the kingdom, but the Fire Department can't keep this shaken community waiting much longer for a determination on either fire. This should be THE question at the upcoming precinct council and community board meetings, as well how both agencies are going to protect the remaining businesses.
We're going to look at this some more, and speak with higher-ups in the Fire Department ... In the meantime, here's what else I learned today ...
First some relatively good news. ZNS, a real estate and property management business, has relocated from its Bainbridge Avenue location, destroyed in the Oct. 31 blaze, to 279-281 E. 204th St. (at the corner of Bainbridge and E. 204th St.).
Several new desks and big-backed leather chairs occupy the renovated space that was home to a Chinese buffet place for several years.
This is just three doors up or so from the gutted Foodtown, so it's understandable that ZNS owner Nick Palushaj sat in the front of the store mostly speechless with a couple of his employees looking like he was the sole survivor of a tornado.
“This is beyond words in my opinion,” said Palushaj, who has been in the neighborhood since 1974 and attended St. Brendan's School. “This is truly amazing. But thank God – we got spared this time."
A little later I stopped in to see Allan Freilich of Freilich Jewelers, probably the most attractive store on the strip. He was sitting in the back office talking with Rich Perna, long-time owner of the McDonald’s on the same block. The two veteran businessmen, whose stores are the kind of solid businesses that are anchors for the corridor, were scratching their heads and having the same kind of "what the heck is going on?" conversation probably taking place in every store and on every street corner in the community. There is no merchants' association on Bainbridge/E. 204th St. any longer, unfortunately, but that is not to say there aren't people like these two who look out for each other and their fellow storeowners.
Next I stoppped by McKeon Funeral Home, which was untouched by fire but was damaged by water and smoke nonetheless. Bill Curran, who owns the place, was on the verge of completing a massive renovation of the three-story building. New carpeting went in two weeks ago. Now water-logged, it will all have to come out. The whole place will also need a new paint job, as most of the hallway walls were heavily scuffed by hoses and firefighter coats. We toured the place, which includes two floors of gorgeous newly renovated apartments, with two reps from the restoration company deployed by the insurance company to get Curran back up and running as soon as possible. As we went along, Curran calmly popped pistachios, offering us some as he showed us around. He already cried that morning, he told us.