Volume 22, Number 02 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | May 22 - 28, 2009
Photo courtesy of www.boweryboogie.com
Firefighters battling the fire at 109 E. Broadway last week.
Businesses hurt by Chinatown fire
By Julie Shapiro
Nearly a week after a four-alarm fire that tore through 109 E. Broadway, the residents and small businesses on the Chinatown block are still waiting for a return to normalcy.
The blaze last Thursday night, May 14, injured seven firefighters, though none seriously, and displaced residents and businesses in four buildings on the block. Early the next afternoon, 109 E. Broadway collapsed, raising questions about the stability of neighboring buildings.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but the F.D.N.Y. said it was not suspicious.
The fire and subsequent collapse destroyed the Hong Kong Supermarket that was on the ground floor of 109 E. Broadway, known for affordable produce, seafood and Asian dry goods.
A national chain with several other locations in the city, Hong Kong Supermarket had been at 109 E. Broadway for about 15 years, said Richard Tang, the supermarket’s controller.
“It’s a terrible thing, but it happened,” he said of the fire. “We’d like to rebuild and reopen, but that’s subject to all the other factors that we have no control over.” The supermarket did not own the building.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver released a statement offering assistance to rebuild the supermarket, calling it “a home away from home for many of our city’s immigrants.”
The fire and subsequent vacate orders also displaced at least eight other businesses, including a travel agency, a salon, a driving school and a restaurant where a wedding party was scheduled for last weekend. Some residents have been displaced as well, though Chris Kui, executive director of Asian Americans for Equality, said 109 E. Broadway was more commercial than residential. The residents are receiving assistance from the Red Cross, Silver’s office said.
On Wednesday, the block of E. Broadway between Pike and Forsyth Sts. remained closed to traffic while workers removed the wreckage from 109 E. Broadway, and the city would not say when the street could reopen.
The city now plans to also demolish 107 E. Broadway, adjacent to the collapsed building, after finding cracks in its rear wall, according to the Dept. of Buildings Web site. The city did not give a timeline for that work. Another adjacent building, 105 E. Broadway, also remains vacated.
Chen Ling Jim, who sells watches, socks and other items at a stand on the block, said his business was off 50 percent because of the street closure.
“Nobody, no street,” he said, gesturing to the few pedestrians who dodged the barriers to walk down the block.
A worker at American Fu Zhou Grocery, 101 E. Broadway, said his business has dropped by 90 percent since the city closed off the street.
“We still have to pay rent, pay labor,” said the worker, who did not want to give his name. “We wasted a lot of food.”
The worker said he had seen little action from the city, and urged them to make decisions quickly, “not slow like an ant.”
To help the displaced and struggling businesses, the city Dept. of Small Business Services and Asian Americans for Equality will hold an assistance session next Wednesday with several other agencies. Some businesses need access to their offices to get documents, and others need help filing insurance claims and forms for unemployment and loans, Kui said.
“It’s important for everyone to be able to continue their business,” Kui said.