Overnight blaze burns down Queens Blvd. stores
by Benjamin Fang
Dec 18, 2018 | 3731 views | 0 0 comments | 168 168 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A five-alarm fire ripped through several businesses on Queens Boulevard between 45th and 46th streets early Thursday morning.

According to reports, the blaze started at around 2 a.m. Firefighters worked on the blaze until just before noon.

Five civilians and seven firefighters were injured, but all of them were non-life threatening, according to the FDNY.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

Jaime-Faye Bean, executive director of the Sunnyside Shines Business Improvement District, said she was completely devastated to see the destruction. In total, six stores, including Sidetracks, New York Style Eats, a UPS store and a hardware store, were impacted, she said.

Three of them were longtime community staples, while one opened just a few weeks ago. Bean said they represent the life cycle of businesses.

“You’ll find very few people in Sunnyside who don’t have memories there,” she said.

Bean spoke to the business owners, who are feeling the same devastation, she said. Sunnyside Shines will connect the owners to the Department of Small Business Services’s emergency response team.

“Everyone is in a state of shock,” she said. “The timing just couldn’t be worse.”

Many residents walking by stopped to observe the damage. Longtime Sunnysiders said the fire reminded them of previous blazes along Queens Boulevard, such as ones on 48th Street and 41st Street.

Anthony Stipanov, who has lived in Sunnyside for more than five decades, said he feels sad for the businesses and the owners.

“I hope they can rebuild,” he said.

Vincent Galindez, who has lived in the neighborhood for 40 years, said the fire was devastating. He recalled that before the UPS store, there was a video shop where he used to rent videos.

“It affects the lives of the people who live in the neighborhood who depended on the businesses,” he said. “This is actually quite devastating.”

“It’s very tragic that it happened around the holiday season,” Galindez added.

Ziggy Tumielewicz, who lives on 44th Street but closer to the expressway side of the neighborhood, said he frequented Sidetracks and New York Style Eats. He said they were common gathering places with good food.

“I shop in these stores all the time, so it’s a little bit of a shock to see all this happening,” he said.

Tumielewicz, who has been in the neighborhood since the 1960s, urged businesses to be careful and take precautions. He was confident that the stores on Queens Boulevard would be back soon.

“They’ll rebuild, this is a lucrative area,” he said. “Within a year, there will be somebody else opened up there, if not the same people.”

Elected officials and business leaders also shared their thoughts on the fire. Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer posted on Twitter that he was grateful there was no loss of life.

“Sunnyside is hurting today,” he tweeted.’ We will help our neighbors recover in any way possible.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio also wrote that he was thankful no one was hurt.

“The fire is out but several businesses were badly damaged,” he said on Twitter. “Please use caution if you need to be in the area.”

Thomas Grech, president and CEO of the Queens Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement that the thoughts of his group are with the the people hurt and the businesses devastated by the fire.

“We wish them all a speedy recovery,” he said. “The Queens Chamber stands ready to jump in and assist all affected businesses, including Queens Chamber members Sidetracks, New York Style Eats and The UPS Store, with relocation assistance and other services they will need at this difficult time.”

In response to the tragedy, Bean and other community leaders started a GoFundMe page to raise funds for the business owners and workers. By Monday, the campaign received more than $71,000 in donations, with the goal of raising $100,000.

On Monday afternoon, Sunnyside Shines and the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce hosted a resource fair to help the employees who are now unemployed as a result of the fire.

Judy Zangwill, executive director of Sunnyside Community Services, said they invited various companies to see what employment opportunities they can offer.

The employees also received other supports, including someone they could talk to about the traumatic event and get help applying for benefits.

As many as eight companies stopped by the resource fair to help the nearly 100 employees affected.

Later that night, business leaders organized a fundraiser at Sunnyside Community Services, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the Fire Relief Fund. The event featured food, drinks, live music, crafts, fine arts and raffles.

Due to the overwhelming interest in the fundraiser, the event had to be split into two seatings to maximize the number of people participating.

Zangwill said the response from the community has been “incredible.”

“It’s so unfortunate this is what is bringing the community together,” she said. “But the community rallied unbelievably under Jaime’s leadership.”

Her message to all those impacted was that Sunnyside stands ready to assist in any way possible.

“The way in which the community has rallied has indicated the type of support that has been received and will continue to be received,” Zangwill said.
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