Several customers walked into Family Discount Center & Ace Hardware last weekend and hugged its owner, Steve Rotker. “Thanks for being open,” one familiar face said.
The store reopened last week after an electrical fire shut it down for 25 days. Ten percent of the stock had been replaced – not only food and candy, but also plush toys that might end up in a child’s mouth despite a parent’s best efforts. The store had been hit with some minor smoke damage and was without electricity for an extended time.
“I’m fortunate,” Rotker said. “It was mostly the inconvenience of not being open.”
Rye Ridge Shopping Center is a two-level cluster in the village of Rye Brook at the intersection of Ridge Street and Bowman Avenue. Paul S. Rosenberg, the mayor, has called the shopping center a quasi-downtown. Rye Brook, which came into existent in 1982, lacks a traditional town center like you’d see in its older neighboring communities.
On Aug. 21, an electrical panel in a utility room sparked, sending billows of smoke rising from the lower level, which is also the “back” portion of the center farther down the hill and just across the street from Port Chester Middle School. Stores on the lower and upper levels were evacuated and several businesses with smoke damage were shut down by the village. Internet and cable access went dark even in those stores that didn’t lose power.
Immediately after the fire, stores like Rye Ridge Deli were forced to only accept cash because their credit card machines were offline. Finch’s Drugs was opened but in crisis mode because to fill prescriptions for customers it needed cable access to communicate with insurance companies. Luckily, the pharmacy was prepared, according to owner Michele Fiscella.
“We went to our Plan B: that five-letter word, ‘modem,’ that old-fashioned thing,” she said. Fiscella’s employees used a dial-up Internet connection to fill prescriptions, which was efficient except that she had to make sure no one used the phone line and inadvertently kicked the cashiers offline. Cablevision was on the scene for repairs and restored the cable access quickly, she said.
The village hoisted yellow caution tape in front of the closed stores and posted “unsafe structure” notices on storefronts that had smoke damage. The building management company brought in cleanup crews and worked to install large temporary generators in the lower parking lot. The lower level was entirely shut in the weeks following the fire.
Several stores were prepared to reopen but needed not only electricity but inspections from several agencies, including the village Building Department, which had to clear all of the stores for reopening. Even with village clearance, some stores needed or still need further approvals from agencies like the Department of Health.
The fire was flameless and the lack of visible damage may have meant some regular patrons underestimated its impact in the first week after the fire. Business owners said that customers tried to cross the tape and go into the stores the first few days they were closed. Only after a few days did residents get the idea that their “quasi-downtown” might not be fully functional again for some time.
By early September, foot traffic was scarce even during the normally-bustling lunch hours. The parking lots were empty and seeing the activity of workers and a slew of trucks at the center may have led some locals to think that all the stores in the center were closed.
Cerbone’s Bakery, on the upper level, closed in September not because of the fire but for renovations. Owner Cesar Aparicio said he closed the store for two weeks to remodel, add new display cases, a cake refrigerator and new ceilings. When he reopened in mid-September, most of the shopping center was still out. He gave out free cupcakes and received visits from a lot of his regulars, but not a lot of walk-ins.
“It was packed, but I expected more,” he said. Rye Ridge businesses, he said, had a symbiotic relationship. Even though he and other stores didn’t receive damage or lose power, they lost customers, who he said visit the center for a collective shopping experience rather than to visit one store. “If someone closes, it’s like a chain,” he said.
As of press time, work continued in the lower level lot, but power had been restored and all stores had reopened except New Dance studio.
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