Liberty Market Owners Moving Out, Fire Investigation Continues
Two break-ins after fire prompts moving stock into storage; building hasn't had heat in two years.
Movers were busy loading Liberty Market's stock onto a box truck parked in front of the 95 Main St. location Tuesday as Asim Jamil and his parents, Sabrina and Sheikh, supervised.
The food probably won't be re-stocked on the market's shelves there again. Asim says they're not planning on returning.
Sabrina said the building, known as the Commericial Block, hasn't had heat for the last two years. She said the section they rent for Liberty Market needs new wiring. It doesn't have sprinklers, either.
The Jamil family decided to move the market's stock into storage after they lost a deli slicer, a computer and "about one of everything," in the market to two break-ins shortly after a fire within the building's walls last Monday.
On Dec. 3, Sabrina was working by herself at the market at 11:15 a.m. when a man came into the store to tell her there was smoke coming from the back of the building. The landlord's son, whom Sabrina only knows as "JP", was there, she said, and he tried putting out the fire with an extinquisher, but it didn't work. "So I called police," she said.
Police and firefighters arrived a short time later, and spent the next six hours there working to put out the fire between the building's double brick walls. "The market will not reopen," said Deputy Fire Chief Paul Russell as they wrapped up the work of making the building safe for the tenants on the second floor to re-enter. Russell was speaking short term, but the remark may prove apt long-term, too.
The fire forced the business to shut down on the orders of the Woonsocket Fire Marshal, although Sabrina said they lost no product. The only damage the lower floor appears to have suffered is a hole in the double-layered brick wall firefighters had to put in the wall to get to the fire, and a pile of bricks and boards pulled off the walls. Crane your neck a bit, and you can see up to the second floor.
Sabrina said she doesn't think the fire started on their floor. Woonsocket Fire Marshal Mike Morin couldn't say much about the fire since it's still under investigation. However, he said, its origin was, "definitely below the second floor."
Regardless of where the fire started, it's ended the Jamil family's patience with the Commercial Block building, which Sheikh said cost them $90,000 to set up their business in. The business was insured, but only for the stock, and that's still intact. When asked if they'll open the market again, "Not here," Asim said.
Economic Development Director Matt Wojcik said he's working with the Jamils to find a new space for them to move into. The main challenge with finding another place on Main Street, he said, is that there's no "turnkey" spot for them to move into. Many of the market's customers walk with canes or use wheelchairs, so the next place they move to has to be handicapped-accessible.
"In my opinion, it's not good property management to rent to and fail to provide them heat to the point of human comfort," Wojcik said.
In March of 2011, Stamatos Property Management, a company based in Jamaica Plain, MA, owned by George Stamatos, bought the Commercial Block, #93-117 on Main Street, summoning new hope for the persevering business people renting there. The building houses 10 of Main Street's storefronts, which included Harlequin's Costumes, Liberty Market,Flea Market Square and Renaissance Tattoo, at the time. It also has 16 apartments on the second floor.
Since then, Wojcik said, the lack of heat in the building also contributed to Harlequin Costumes shuttering its storefront. The shop had been in the spot for 27 years when it closed this summer, according to a Channel 6 report. Wojcik said customers couldn't comfortably change in and out of costumes in the winter at the shop.
Wojcik said the building has a huge, inefficient boiler heating system that's expensive to keep running. However, he said, Stamatos should have taken that into account when he bought the property, or done something to provide heat there by now if it caught him by surprise.
City officials had high hopes for Stamatos Property Management's ownership of the building in 2011. "They've been a big disappointment," Wojcik said.