As early as 5:00 a.m. October 30, neighbors in the vicinity of 22nd and University remember faintly smelling smoke but not knowing where it came from. About 8:40, fire trucks, sirens blaring, raced up University past Sunny Hammouri’s home near the SuperAmerica at Broadway.
Moments later it became clear that the liquor store part of the building he owns a few blocks away, at 2201 University, was on fire. Smoke started to curl from under the façade. Six fire vehicles blocked University to deal with it. Another set up at the hydrant across from Grumpy’s on 4th Street and two ambulances stood by.
There was one inury, a firefighter. At least a dozen people’s livelihoods are affected, Hammouri said. Two brothers own the liquor store; Sunny’s convenience store employed two in addition to Sunny; the deli for The Bark and the Bite employed four plus the owner. Hammouri was finishing off space for a tobacco store which would employ three. The goal was to have those products removed from the corner store that the neighbors see as kid-friendly. It’s a place that kids can wait inside if a parent is running late getting home. It’s a place to leave package deliveries, Hammouri said.
If he’s able to rebuild, he would like to make the place nicer for the neighborhood, he said, with bigger windows, a different way of handling trash, more efficient space, and so on. But does not yet know what his “very good” insurance will actually be able to do. He said he does have a contractor ready.
While the convenience store part still looks like a convenience store through the windows, there is actually a lot of water and smoke damage, Hammouri said.
The liquor store, where the fire started in the basement, is in much worse shape, with the floor fallen in, he said. The fire report, obtained on November 9, said the fire’s cause is undetermined, as a full investigation was not possible due to floor collapse.
Green placards say the property will be condemned in a month if the fire damage is not abated. A fire inspections representative said that does not mean that the city will tear the building down, it simply means the property can’t be occupied overnight, and is like a “tap on the shoulder” to let an owner know they’re watching the property and progress should be made.
The next door building facing 22nd across a driveway, housing Crepe and Spoon, and the bicycle repair shop in its outbuilding were not affected, Hammouri said.
He’s buying the property on a contract for deed from Jung Eui Cha and Lisa Cha Trust, executed about a year and a half ago. “The building was inspected before and after I bought it, and the electrical was 100 percent in great shape.”
He recounted his family history in Northeast dating back to the late 1990s when his younger brother was in high school. About six years ago they bought out Dean’s Circle where they both had worked off and on. For a while they lived in the duplex right next to the store, which, once that was known, tended to discourage mischief of the type the store had experienced.
The morning of October 30, one neighbor came out to talk to the firefighters in her pajamas and robe, and came back later in street clothes. She said she knows people who work at the stores. A line of people watched, including folks with kids in strollers. Cell phone cameras were active and one person used a video camera on a tripod. In just an hour and a half, about 10:30 a.m., the immediate drama appeared to be over.
According to the fire report, the fire was contained to the liquor store side and fire in the roof was extinguished once a gas line that was feeding the fire from the basement could be shut off. Two cars had to be towed, that were parked over the spot that the gas company then dug up to accomplish the shut-off.
The fire was declared out at 7:31 p.m. October 30.
Below: Quick action by firefighters hosing it down from the roof and sides made the 2201 University Avenue scene October 30 mostly one of smoke curling and billowing from under the building’s facade. When they got the door open, there was a brief glimpse of a fiery floor. According to the fire department’s report on the incident, the cause could not be determined due to the floor having fallen in. The report’s estimate of damage to the building is $300,000 and the contents $600,000. (Photo by Margo Ashmore)