Several businesses suffered major fire damage after a blaze tore through a Gulfport shopping center at 58th Street and 15th Avenue South on Thursday evening, April 21.
Fazio’s Pizza, Suncoast Food Store, Sunrise Laundromat and Gulfport Florist have spent the last several days picking up the pieces.
Firefighting units from Gulfport, St. Petersburg, Lealman, St. Pete Beach and Treasure Island were all dispatched to the scene, according to Gulfport Fire Chief James Marenkovic. It took crews one hour to get the blaze under control, with one firefighter reportedly getting out just before the roof collapsed.
“You have no idea,” said Tony Althaus, owner of Fazio’s Pizza, of the damage. “It’s indescribable.”
Sunrise Laundromat, where the fire originated, is a total loss, according to early insurance reports. Investigators still are unsure of the exact cause, but are sure that there were no injuries.
Gulfport Florists remains open, and owner Kirk Strauchler says he is very grateful.
“We were really lucky,” Strauchler said, who reported only smoke damage and some damage from firefighters entering the building. “We were only out two days. So we are not as bad off as others.”
Fazio’s Pizza suffered major damage to the rear of the building where the kitchen is located. Owner Tony Althaus and his wife and business partner Robin say they have been overwhelmed by the community support in the wake of the damage.
Local business owner and recent candidate for mayor, Barbara Banno, has lead efforts to organize fundraisers to help support the businesses affected by the fire.
“Every part of the community is coming together,” Banno said. “It’s what our community does best.”
The fundraisers will begin on May 4 with a shop and dine event. Local businesses are urged to give a percentage of their sales that day to the 58th Street Fire Disaster Fund.
May 18 will be a large party at Most Holy Name of Jesus School, just adjacent to the damaged businesses, featuring donated food from local restaurants, auctions, raffles and more.
Banno also set up a GoFundMe account to assist the victims with the financial burden.
“When something like this happens it affects their livelihood,” said Banno.
The Althauses are among those grateful for the community efforts.
“Words cannot express our appreciation to the community,” Robin said. “We first cried tears of sadness, but now we’re crying tears of joy. We are overwhelmed with joy.”
It’s been a busy week for the shopping center, particularly Robin Althause, who not only alerted everyone in the adjoining businesses of the fire, but also tended to the stabbing victim in last week’s assault at the Suncoast Food Store.
The Althauses have been working at the pizzeria for 21 years, and have owned it for 15. There is no timeline yet, but they say they plan on reopening and continuing to serve Gulfport.
“Absolutely we want to reopen,” Robin said. “And there is no discussion on relocating.”
“We’re at the mercy of the insurance companies right now,” Tony said about reopening. “Our timeline could be a few weeks or a few months.”
Despite the damage, spirits are high.
“I don’t want to leave Gulfport,” Tony said. He also said that despite losing all the food product, his equipment is still intact and will hopefully be making pizza again in the near future.