March 8, 2021 By Christina Santucci
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards visited the site of last-week’s four-alarm fire Sunday afternoon and met with some of the 15 Jackson Heights shop owners whose businesses were damaged in the massive blaze.
Richards toured the area along with a representative from the city’s Department of Small Business Services — to provide store owners with information about government services available to them and offer support from his office.
“This has been such a tough time, a dark time for communities,” the borough president said, “But we are going to help them, as much as we can, to see some sunlight at the end of the tunnel.”
Last week’s fire, which began in Prince Kebab & Chinese Restaurant, tore through several storefronts on 74th Street near Roosevelt Avenue at about 11 p.m. Thursday, the FDNY said.
A total of 15 businesses were damaged during the blaze, said Jackson Heights Indian Merchants Association President Shiv Dass. Dass met with Richards during the beep’s visit to Jackson Heights Sunday afternoon. The affected properties are owned by three separate landlords, Richards said.
“At most of these stores, the roof has collapsed, and a lot of water got in there,” Dass said.
Richards said he was able to peer inside the location, and he believed that it could take two to three years for the site to be rebuilt if the buildings needed to be demolished.
What happens next will be determined by the city’s Department of Buildings (DOB). As of Sunday night, a full vacate order was in place for the site. The DOB will assess if and when it is safe for business owners to get back into their shops.
Harry Kumar, who manages Kundan Jewelers, said his family’s store was among those damaged during the fire. Kumar’s family has been in the jewelry business for several decades but had just opened the 74th Street location in January 2020.
On Thursday night, he rushed over to the store after seeing activity on the shop’s security video, and watched as firefighters battled the blaze from about 11 p.m. until 6 a.m. the next morning.
Kumar said he wasn’t able to go inside, but from the exterior, he believed that nearly everything inside the shop was destroyed, including a new jewelry display ordered from India. His family was trying to figure out what to do next when contacted by phone Sunday afternoon.
Many of the affected business owners are immigrants from India, Bangladesh and Nepal, Dass said. Richards described them as “representative of the people of Queens.”
Some of the owners were not insured, and some shops didn’t have leases and instead rented month to month.
Most commercial leases include guidelines for what happens when properties are damaged by fire — so officials can help shop owners to review their individual lease terms. For those without a lease, there are programs that could help a business move into a new location, Richards said.
Store owners also may be eligible for free legal advice, and on Sunday, officials advised those impacted about how to track down reports needed to file an insurance claim.
“Without a doubt, we are here to help them navigate through all of the bureaucracy and let them know what protections are available,” the borough president said.
Some of the damaged shops had already been struggling before the blaze.
“Many of the businesses in Jackson Heights have been weathering the storm of the pandemic,” Richards said. “This fire is such a setback for them.”
Starting in March 2020, some had to close for in-person shopping for several months, and business had been slow initially after they reopened.
“These stores were not getting any traffic, because people were scared to come,” Dass said, explaining that recently business had been improving. “Slowly these stores were picking up, then this [fire] happened,” he added.
The owner of Tony Moe Beauty Salon said the pandemic has been very difficult for her business, and the fire has worsened the situation. The owner, who asked to be identified as Ms. Moe, believed the damage was extensive in the salon she has owned for the past five years.
“The cops said there is nothing inside. Everything is destroyed,” her family member said, translating for her.