B y Jaime Thomas
A fire destroyed two buildings on Main Street in Granville early Monday morning.
Local firefighters responded to a call at 3:50 a.m. for a fire in a trash receptacle. Upon further investigation, however, they realized a structure fire was in progress in two buildings, All In One Exchange pawn shop and the former L.E. Roberts jewelry store, which was being used as an art studio and gallery and which had originally been the Washington County National Bank building.
“It’s a very tragic event for the main street of Granville and for the people who lived there,” said Beverly Koffler, owner of the former bank building. Assistant Village Clerk Denise Davies called Koffler Monday morning to tell her about the fire, and she immediately got out of bed and came down to the site.
Fire Chief Ryan Pedone said crews believe an accidental electric fire set the wall of the pawn shop alight, and because the buildings were old the fire moved quickly. Firefighters were able to prevent the fire from spreading to the next building over, Scotties gift and coffee shop, by standing on its roof and hosing down the flames.
“Our first concern was immediately getting the crew on top of Scotties to save it,” Pedone said. Granville Mayor Brian LaRose said he was ecstatic that crews were able to prevent the coffee shop from severe damage.
However, because of lack of integrity of the burning structures, crews were unable to get inside and stop active fires on the second and third floors of the other two buildings. People who lived in the apartment above the pawn shop were able to get out unharmed.
“It’s devastating number one for the folks that own the buildings, number two for the small family that was living in the apartment, and number three for the community after all we’ve been through with Irene, etc.,” LaRose said.
In the early morning, Granville crews were unable to generate enough water from their own pumps, so they called in neighboring crews for water and aid, and many crews responded to the scene.
“It was a phenomenal job by all the departments involved,” Pedone said. “There were a lot of fire trucks here, but there was a lot of fire.”
Koffler has owned the building for about 15 years and she and her husband had been restoring it as an apartment for themselves above the gallery. She had put in a new roof, a new electric system, a new heating system and new bathrooms.
“I feel devastated,” Koffler said. “It was our dream that when we got older we’d live upstairs — we’re very heartbroken.” Along with the building and two upstairs apartments, Koffler lost more than 200 of her own paintings, more than 150 paintings she was collecting and various pieces of antique furniture, photographs and other valuables.
Firefighters had to cut down two trees in front of the damaged buildings to make room for an excavator they called in from Wilton. The machine from Kubricky Construction did not arrive until nearly 1 p.m., because the company had to get permits to take the heavy vehicle, which one official estimated to weigh at least 75,000 pounds, on county roads.
LaRose said Monday being a holiday created more of a delay in the excavator coming to help. He said the front of the old bank had begun leaning forward, and both buildings were too compromised to leave standing.
While waiting for the excavator, crews took down a protruding chimney from the top of the pawn shop building so it would not fall and injure anyone. Firefighters continued to douse the building from all sides and took down sections of siding and cornice in doing so.
The excavator began tearing down the pawn shop first, as firefighters continued to hose down the building from above. When knocking stone blocks off the old bank, the excavator worked slowly and carefully in an effort to leave Scotties coffee shop untouched. Officials thought Scotties had only smoke damage, and the excavator dropped only a few small pieces of rubble on the building; the awning did sustain some damage.
During excavation, onlookers and officials alike expressed sadness at seeing the loss of an old building, but were grateful Scotties was damaged only minimally.
“We lost two buildings, but we saved the rest of the block,” Pedone said.
Koffler said the bank was more than 100 years old.
“The building was the only one left in perfect condition, and it survived all the other fires,” Koffler said. “The bank always stood.”
LaRose said the fire will leave a big hole on Main Street, but officials will soon begin to work on filling it.
“We’re going to do what we can to make it whole again,” LaRose said.
Teresa Loomis, owner of T’s Kitchen, gave out water and doughnuts to the firefighters in the early morning and had a booth set up with hot food, bread and drinks later on.
She said the owner of Scotties inadvertently inspired her to help out.
“It’s what Tom Scott would’ve done if he could have. Tom’s always backed the community in that respect,” Loomis said. She added that people get hungry when they work as hard as the firefighting men and women were.
LaRose was grateful for the time and effort the community came out and gave.
“I cannot say enough about the firefighters that were here and other folks that helped us. I’m thankful to the DPW, the Washington County Sherriff’s department, Dan Williams and the Department of Transportation, Kubricky Construction, the Granville PBA for utilizing restrooms and their space, and all the folks that were giving out coffee, doughnuts and sandwiches,” LaRose said.