Business owners carry on after fire
GUILDERLAND — All three of the independent businesses at 3905 Carman Road — a deli, a dentist’s office, and a dance studio — plan to rebuild after a rooftop fire on Dec. 20 caused extensive damage.
The Friday evening fire was caused when a gas line supplying a rooftop heating unit broke, according to Sean Maguire, spokesman for Guilderland fire departments. No firefighters or occupants were hurt.
Gina Ruggiero was working with her mother at the family’s pizzeria and deli on Friday evening. Her three brothers and father also work in the family business, which started in Glenville 24 years ago and has had a Guilderland branch for 14 years.
The ovens were full of pizzas when a customer said he smelled gas.
“We had six ovens going and the air was heavy that night, so it wasn’t unusual to smell natural gas,” recalled Ruggiero. “I called National Grid. By the time I got off the phone, another customer came in and said our roof was on fire. We called the fire department.”
Gina Ruggiero and her mother got the customers out. The dentist’s office in the center of the building was closed and empty. Class was going on at The Dance Studio, at the end of the Art Deco building closest to Okara Drive.
“We told them,” said Ruggiero. “It almost wasn’t real...As soon as someone said ‘fire’ I was concerned about an explosion...We got everyone out.”
The call came in to the Guilderland Fire Department at 5:19 p.m. A police unit arrived first on the scene, followed by volunteers from the Guilderland, Guilderland Center, and Fort Hunter departments.
The volunteers knocked down the fire within minutes then remained on the scene to check for hot spots and to help with retrieving valuables, like computers from the dentist’s office, said Maguire. Volunteers from North Bethlehem offered rehab support for the firefighters while a crew from Westmere was on standby for Guilderland.
Ruggiero stood with her mother and others, watching as the firefighters did their job. Smoke billowed from the distinctive peaked roof of the building that once housed a craft market, Deco World. Guilderland’s ladder truck lifted firefighters to the rooftop, which was covered with snow. There, they used chainsaws to cut large holes in the roof.
Maguire said this week it hadn’t been determined what broke the gas line; it could have been snow.
“It’s not your typical roofline,” he said. “It was a challenge to deal with...The rooftop unit was sitting between the roof peeks.”
The firefighters, who doused the flames in less than 20 minutes, Maguire said, kept the fire contained to that area. “If there had been a delay, it might have been a different story,” he said of the building being largely preserved.
The building is owned by Thomas Hoffman, who could not be reached for comment.
Maguire stressed this warning: “If you smell natural gas, you should call 9-1-1, not NiMo. We’ll call NiMo. We’ll get there a lot quicker.” He also stressed the need to evacuate right away.
“It was sad,” said Ruggiero of watching the fire. “This is how we all make our living. It’s right before Christmas.”
Ruggiero’s Pizza, Deli, and Catering is planning on keeping all of its holiday catering commitments, she said, working from the Glenville location.
The family will “definitely” re-open at the Guilderland location, Ruggiero said, adding, “It could have been much worse.” Right now, they are “looking at options,” perhaps relocating somewhere in Guilderland for two or three months.
The business was insured, but she is not sure yet what will be covered and the family will also be working with Hoffman’s insurer, she said.
“We are concerned about our employees,” Ruggiero said. The Guilderland restaurant had 15 workers, some of whom will work out of the Glenville location.
“We’re trying to accommodate everybody as best we can,” concluded Ruggiero. “It’s tough.”
At the other end of the building, The Dance Studio was the least damaged. Barbara Mayhood is the studio’s owner and the sole teacher. She has had the business for 30 years, 17 of them at the current location.
“At our end, we got lucky,” said her husband, Michael Mayhood, explaining the studio suffered smoke and water damage.
“We’ll be open in two weeks, just as scheduled,” he said on Monday. The two-week hiatus had been planned for the holidays.
“The best news is no one was hurt,” said Mayhood. “Everybody got out fine. All the kids were picked up by their parents...That’s all that matters.”
Steven Oshins’s office, located in the middle between the pizzeria and the dance studio, bore the brunt of the damage.
Maguire said the sprinkler system in his office “did its job,” saving the building but causing much damage.
Last Friday evening, Oshins was hosting a holiday party for his staff — a receptionist, a hygienist, and an assistant.
They had just eaten hors d' oeuvres when, at 5:30 p.m., the call came.
“They all piled into my car and we went over,” said Oshins. “They stuck it out. I still made them dinner.”
The party had been planned with an Asian theme and he served sweet-and-sour chicken lo mein, and steak and broccoli with sesame and garlic.
Oshins had dreamed of being a dentist ever since he was 6 or 7. He graduated from the University of Buffalo Dental School in 1992, and practiced at St. Clare’s Hospital before setting up in Guilderland in 2000.
“I’d be lying if I told you things were hunky-dory,” Oshins said this week. “I started from scratch,” he said of his dental practice, which is now up to 800 patients.
“When it’s your baby, it’s hard,” he said of the damage to his office. “It’s a second home. I spend more time in my dental office than my townhouse.”
Oshins has been checking with local dentists to see about using their space for his patients during off hours. Patients may still call his regular office number and the call will be rolled over to his cell phone.
“I can still access my records,” said Oshins. “We went digital in February 2012. I made sure to back up records off site in case of a catastrophe...That’s the positive.”
Some patients’ charts, however, are still on paper. Oshins has been working with an insurance adjuster and is considering freeze-drying some of the charts that are “severely wet.”
Oshins, who is 47, said of rebuilding his office, “It will be down to the studs. I’ll be starting from scratch....I was offering a quality dental plan with a savings plan. We were trying to make dentistry more affordable...Then this happens...”
He went on, “I just want patients to know I truly care about them. I love helping people. That’s why I got into this in the first place.”
Describing his emotions this week, Oshins said, “Somehow, some way, you’re feeling overwhelmed and disbelief.” But, he concluded, “It’s not going to bury me...I’m not going to crumble. I’ll come back better and stronger than ever.”