Tenants face the future in the aftermath of destructive blaze

Photo by Daniel Jackovino
The Roxy Florist this past weekend, after a fire tore through the two-story brick building on Tuesday, Jan. 21. Many of the nine businesses housed in the structure have already relocated.

BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Some tenants of the Washington Street and Glenwood Avenue building destroyed by fire on the morning of Tuesday, Jan. 21, have relocated, while others still face the unknown. The two-story brick building housed nine businesses, including Roxy Florist, whose owner, Nick Zois, 89, owned the building and operated the flower shop for 64 years. The fire occurred on his birthday. According to fire Chief Lou Venezia, the four-alarm blaze started in a wall between two first-floor stores. Its cause is undetermined but not suspicious, he said, and no one was injured.

One business that has found a temporary address is the Bloomfield Center Alliance. It sponsors neighborhood events and improvement initiatives and now resides on the Bloomfield College campus. BCA Director Ollyn Lettman said he was grateful to Bloomfield College President Marcheta Evans for the lifeline and to the township for the loan of a laptop. The BCA employs six people.

“I’m trying to recreate everything from scratch,” he said. “We’re hoping we can have this space at least until spring.”

Qorrell Wright, owner of Kolby’s Place barbershop, employed 11 barbers and hairstylists. When he learned his shop was on fire from a client, Wright said he jumped from bed, threw on his clothes and got into the car. A security camera located inside the barbershop provided a live feed to his smartphone, and he watched “a lot of smoke and firemen going in and out” as he raced to the scene.

Wright has been at the Glenwood Avenue address for six years. He now works in an East Orange barbershop, while his employees have relocated elsewhere.

“We reached out to people that we know,” he said. “The barber community is a community.”

Wright said anytime a person loses a big part of what they have worked for, it is a big shock to wake up and find it gone, but his relocation is temporary and he will be returning to Bloomfield.

“We do community drives and want to continue the legacy,” he said. “We do free cuts for kids when they go back to school and provide school materials. Hopefully, we’ll get back together by prom season.”

Another tenant, attorney Sal Alfano, has relocated to the Leo Building. He discovered the fire while walking into his second-floor office.

“I saw the fire coming out of the corridor,” he said.

Alfano works alone and said he has “no clue” yet whether anything in his office could be salvaged, but all his records are on the cloud. He has been at the address for 25 years.

Cesar Santos, a business manager for Winfield Security, an employment agency for the security industry that is also in the building, said the company is located in New York City and the Bloomfield office was visited once a week. He learned about the fire from a news report the day after it happened and came to the township the next day to see for himself.

“It’s a total wreck,” he said.

Winfield Security has been in Bloomfield for nine years, and Santos said it would like to remain here.

Angel Charon owned two ground-floor businesses: Heavenly Flavors and Heavenly Bites. Another tenant sent him a video of the fire as it was occuring. Charon set out immediately for Bloomfield.

“Once I got off the parkway and saw the smoke, I knew it wasn’t good,” he said.

Charon’s businesses are family owned, and he has been at the location since 2015.

“I put a lot of pride in building this store,” he said. “I’m still in disbelief. I saw people put pictures on Facebook of them in my shop. It gave me tears of joy instead of tears of loss. But everything is replaceable. Look at Kobe Bryant.”

While things can always be replaced, Bryant, the former professional basketball superstar who was killed with his daughter in a helicopter crash on Sunday, Jan. 26, most certainly cannot.

Also hard hit was John Dey, who worked for Zois as a florist.

“Personally, I’m a mess,” he said earlier this week. “I went to unemployment and I’m looking for employment. I’m trying to wrap my head around this deal. I was OK until Friday, and then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I’ve never been out of a job. Right now, I’m a lost soul.”

But Dey acknowledged that his spirits have been buoyed by the concern of friends: one person gave him a ShopRite gift card and another, a check. Even his bank was understanding, when he went to cash a paycheck salvaged from the wreckage.

“It was all ripped up, but the bank said they’d work with it,” he said.

Dey had gone with Zois to rent a post office box the morning of this interview.

“He’s doing his best, but he doesn’t know what to do,” Dey said. “It’s definitely his time to retire, but not like this.”

In a brief telephone call, Zois later said he would know more about his situation in a few days.

“This is all very new to me,” he said.