Businesses turn inventive following Auburndale fire

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Days after the July 23 fire, which sent...

By Kathianne Boniello

It took firefighters less than 90 minutes last week to quench an electrical blaze in the basement of an Auburndale commercial strip, but the recovery time was not so quick for the businesses displaced by the fire.

Days after the July 23 fire, which sent smoke billowing through the neighborhood and cut off power to nearly all the stores on Northern Boulevard between 194th and 193rd streets, most businesses had temporarily closed their doors. Others soldiered on.

With the help of an outdoor table, a large umbrella and some temporary phone lines, the staff of Century 21 Realty conducted its work on the sidewalk in front of their storefront at 194-21 Northern Blvd., while other merchants simply worked without electricity. Power was eventually restored to the commercial strip on Saturday.

Century 21 Realty Owner Maureen Papalas, who has run the business in Auburndale for 28 years, said her staff spent several days last week contacting customers by cell phone.

“I’ve got customers who are trying to sell their home,” Papalas said. “My agents are out there — we’re conducting business as usual.”

Several doors away, the lights at Anastasia’s Gift Shop, a christening and bridal shop, were out but the door was wide open as owner Anastasia Manesis talked with several customers.

“I never stopped for a minute,” said Manesis, whose store has been at 194-15 Northern Blvd. for 13 years. “There is no such thing as ‘pause.’”

The city Fire Department said last week no one was injured during the electrical fire, which broke out July 23 at 4:20 p.m. and was brought under control by 5:40 p.m. Firefighter James Spollen said 60 firefighters responded to the blaze at 194-13 Northern Blvd.

Papalas said that as the fire broke out in the basement below their office, her staff began to smell smoke but could not tell where it was coming from.

“We heard a boom and the air conditioner went,” Papalas said. “Then we opened up the basement door and there was smoke everywhere.

“Thank God we were here to smell it,” she said. “This whole place would have burned down,” she said, referring to the commercial strip.

The fire burned, Papalas said, until Con Edison arrived to turn off the power. The electricity was still off last Thursday, forcing many merchants temporarily out of work.

Most of the store owners sustained at least some smoke damage from the blaze. Century 21 Real Estate had severe damage to its back room, while Anastasia’s Gift Shop must replace its inventory, Manesis said.

“We have no power, no lights,” she said last Thursday. But “we’ve got a responsibility to our customers. I didn’t close my doors and leave at all.”

On the corner of 194th Street and Northern Boulevard, Mike Diomataris sat in the dark inside the deli he has owned for 11 years.

Diomataris could not serve customers because without electricity his cash register was not working.

Even so, customers continued to stream into the store last Thursday afternoon to check up on Diomataris and offer their help.

“I don’t have customers here,” he said. “I have friends.”

Reach reporter Kathianne Boniello by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 146.

Posted 7:13 pm, October 10, 2011
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