After Fire, A Grocer Copes With Loss

DSC04603Suzanne Rozdeba Pratik Shah, owner of the East Village Farm & Grocery, stands in front of what remains of the store after it was devastated by a fire Tuesday morning. Below: Mr. Shah greets a well-wisher outside the store.
East Village Farm Health Food & Grocery

When Pratik Shah’s family opened East Village Farm & Grocery 20 years ago, he was 14 years old. He quickly got to know the customers as he helped his parents, who had emigrated from India, run their first, successful business on the corner of Second Avenue and Fourth Street.

“Our customers watched me grow up. I remember being a teenager there, and then I worked there through college. It’s a family business,” Mr. Shah, 34, told The Local. “It didn’t make us rich. It was more for survival. This is what we have, and this is what we will have, if it’s reconstructed. We are ready to do whatever it takes to bring this place back.”

On Tuesday at 4 a.m., a fire roared through the business, leaving the store, which Mr. Shah owns with his father, in ruins. Seven residents of the six-story building were treated for minor injuries, officials said; all of the injured were taken to Beth Israel Hospital. The fire, which was confined to the first floor, was declared under control within an hour. Mr. Shah said that the Fire Department told him it seems there was an electrical fire, but officials say the cause is still under investigation.

Mr. Shah estimates the damage at close to $500,000.

“This business is how I support my family,” said Mr. Shah, who has a wife, Niti Parekh, and 6-year-old son, Sahil. As he stood outside the boarded-up bodega, customer after customer walked by to offer apologies. One gave him a huge hug, and said, “It’ll be alright.”

He found out about the fire when his cashier, who was working the late shift at the 24-hour store, called him at 4 a.m. that morning. “I had just come back from India after a two-week break. They don’t usually call me then, so I knew there was something wrong,” he said. “There were sparks in the ceiling lights. It was a flammable drop ceiling. In the area where it started, we had paper products. It all caught fire really quickly.

“The workers tried to open water jugs and throw it on the fire, but they only did it to the point they thought it was safe. Then the FDNY came and took it from there.”

Mr. Shah arrived 15 minutes after he got the call. The damage was so bad that it took the better part of 24 hours for him to be able to see what was left of his store. “There’s a lot of water damage,” he said. “Most of the inventory, equipment and infrastructure have been damaged. It’s just something we have to deal with.”

He’s been busy meeting with his insurance investigator and an architect to assess the damage, and see how quickly he can rebuild the family business. “This was an area which was affordable 20 years ago,” Mr. Shah said. “The first line of work my father got was in a convenience store, and he found it interesting because of all the people. He wasn’t skilled in any profession, but he said, ‘This is something I can do.’ And he loved being around people all the time.”

“We’re hopeful that we can get it running again in one or two months,” Mr. Shah said. “It takes time to rebuild. We’ll recreate what we had. We’ll come back. We will.”

East Village Farm Health Food & GrocerySuzanne Rozdeba Mr. Shah has been busy meeting with his insurance investigator and an architect to assess the damage, and determine how quickly he can rebuild the family business.