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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.

6th St. Residents Still Reeling After Fire

507 E. 6 St., After the FireSuzanne Rozdeba A day after a fire that destroyed the 6th Street Kitchen restaurant and severely damaged several apartments above it, displaced residents of the building are still trying to cope with damage from the blaze and an uncertain timetable for a return to their homes. Below: Damage to a third-floor apartment.
507 E. 6th St. Fire
507 E. 6th St. FirePaul Canetti

When David Gold stopped by his apartment on East Sixth street Tuesday evening, hours after a fire ripped through the restaurant on the first floor, he couldn’t bear the smell.

“It smells terrible. It’s like being around the biggest campfire you’ve ever seen – in a closed apartment,” Mr. Gold told The Local earlier today. “You get a headache after being in there for 10 minutes. There was no way I could sleep there. It’s that bad.”

Instead, Mr. Gold spent the night at his girlfriend’s apartment. “I’m assuming I’ll be there at least a week until it’s cleaned up.”

Mr. Gold’s apartment was one of eight that firefighters stormed through after a blaze broke out in 6th Street Kitchen, the restaurant on the first floor of the building at 507 East Sixth Street. While the building’s management has already begun repair work, there is no timetable yet for when residents might be able to return. In the meantime, Mr. Gold and his displaced neighbors have taken temporary refuge with friends and family.

Even as residents adjusted to their jarring, new living arrangements, a fire department spokesman told The Local today that officials were continuing to investigate two fires that broke out there yesterday morning, and an earlier blaze at a bodega on Second Avenue and Fourth Street.

While Mr. Gold applauded the work of the firefighters, he’s left with torn-up floors, ripped-open walls, and broken furniture. “There’s so much smoke damage that I don’t know yet if it can be cleaned. If damage is bad enough, you have to replace your whole wardrobe.”

The management company of the East Sixth Street building already had workers repairing apartments last night, said Mr. Gold. “They’re cleaning up the walls, floors, and ceilings, and the smashed windows and doors. The problem is, I can’t really go back there until it’s done. Hopefully, they’ll do a quick job.”

While Mr. Gold’s apartment will eventually be restored, 6th Street Kitchen, which had quickly become a neighborhood favorite, is in ruins and its future remains uncertain.

“Chris is a wreck,” Annie Wang, a publicist for the restaurant, told The Local referring to Chris Genoversa, the restaurant’s owner. “Right now, we’re going through all our options. The staff is taking it pretty hard.”

Ms. Wang said Mr. Genoversa was told by the fire department that there seemed to have been an electrical fire in the restaurant, but an investigation is still pending. “It was the FDNY that called him yesterday morning to tell him about the fire. When I talked to him, he was just speechless. You could tell in the tone of his voice he was completely torn apart. He’s invested so much money into the place. We were all really optimistic about the New Year.”

“There are still a lot of things going on before Chris can make a decision on what to do next,” Ms. Wang said. “I don’t know how long it would take to fix the place up. It’s a complete mess.”

8 Injured In A Pair Of Morning Fires

507 E. 6th Street FireSuzanne Rozdeba Firefighters at the scene of a blaze at Kitchen, a restaurant on East Sixth Street. The fire was one of two this morning in the East Village that sent eight people to the hospital with minor injuries.

Eight people were treated for minor injuries after two separate early-morning fires that broke out in the East Village today, one that destroyed a restaurant on East Sixth Street, and the other in a bodega on Second Avenue.

The first blaze occurred at East Fourth Street and Second Avenue around 4 a.m. at the East Village Farm Groceries store, the authorities said. 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.

The second fire, at 507 East Sixth Street, occurred around 7:30 a.m. inside 6th Street Kitchen, a restaurant on the first floor. The authorities said that a firefighter sustained a minor injury while battling the blaze and was being treated at Bellevue Hospital.

Deputy Chief Robert Carroll told The Local that firefighters had to cut their way through the restaurant’s roll-down security gate before they could put out the fire.

The restaurant was all but destroyed by the blaze. “It’s pretty bad,” Chief Carroll said of the damage. “It’s all burnt out. We had to go in there, take the ceilings down, check for any hidden fire.”

Paul Canetti, 27, who lives on the building’s third floor and was with his girlfriend, told The Local, “I woke up at 7:30. We heard the beeps from the fire alarms. We started to smell smoke. We opened the front door, and you couldn’t see in the hallway. It was filled with smoke.”

After exiting the building safely, he said, “A couple minutes later, the fire trucks came. They cut the locks off the restaurant gate. When they lifted it up, the flames came shooting out.”

David Gold, 32, who also lives on the third floor, said, “We heard four, loud pops. They sounded like gunshots. That woke me up. Then the smoke alarm went off and we came down and called 911.”

Tom Claxton, 35, who was staying at a friend’s apartment in the building, said, “I heard this large, cracking noise, and then the fire alarm started. A few minutes later I smelled smoke. I panicked, grabbed my laptop and a couple of things and got out. I just got in last night from London, and this was my first night here. Most of my things are still in a suitcase upstairs.”

The authorities said that investigators are still trying to determine what caused both blazes.

507 E. 6th St. FireSuzanne Rozdeba A firefighter surveys the damage to the 6th Street Kitchen.

2 Early Morning Fires Strike East Village

Firefighters are investigating the cause of two separate blazes that broke out in the East Village this morning. The first fire, near Second Avenue and East Fourth Street, occurred about 4 a.m. and was placed under control in about an hour; the second blaze, near East Sixth Street and Avenue A, erupted around 7:30 and was placed under control in about 45 minutes. There were no immediate reports of injuries in either blaze; reporters from The Local are on the scene and will post a full report as soon as we have more details.—Suzanne Rozdeba