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Fire decimates Whitestone Shopping Center

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A fast-moving fire roared through the Whitestone Shopping Center early Sunday morning, damaging several businesses and gutting a neighborhood institution — the Lollipop Diner.

Seven businesses and two vacant stores sustained damage in the blaze, which fire officials said started at around 1 a.m. Sunday morning and quickly spread across a large awning that spans each of the storefronts.  While many storeowners were optimistic Monday that they would reopen quickly following the fire, the 30-year-old Lollipop Diner was severely damaged in the blaze.

“I’m shocked,” said Marty Cholewa, a regular customer for decades who came to the diner to get lunch Monday. “It’s so sad. It’s a great diner. The irony of it all is the only one that’s totally knocked out is [Lollipop].  Such a shame. The owner’s such a nice guy.”

A liquor store, a General Nutrition Center (GNC), NY Print Center, an Astoria Federal Savings bank, a Chase bank and a Chinese restaurant called King’s Chef also sustained damage in the blaze. Workers at NY Print Center and King’s Chef said they were fortunate only to sustain smoke and water damage in the fire, and believe thick walls dividing each of the stores may have spared them more devastating damage.

Fire officials say the cause of the fire is still under investigation, but it is believed to have started either in Lollipop Diner or the liquor store next door.

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at Sstirling@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, ext. 138.

Posted 6:37 pm, October 10, 2011
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