Just as Old Town appeared to have taken two steps forward in its efforts to redevelop Main Street, the fire that swept through several prominent buildings late Saturday night has knocked the city back at least one.
Over the last 18 months, the city has awarded $125,000 in grants — mostly funded by the state — to help renovate the facades of downtown properties. At least half the funds went to owners of some of the wooden buildings that were heavily damaged in the fire, according to Assistant City Manager Travis Roy.
Now, a row-style building at 270 Main Street has been torn down and four others — 276, 274, 272 and 266 Main Street — were heavily damaged in the fire that displaced at least 11 residents and a couple of businesses. On Monday morning, the city was still evaluating the buildings’ structural integrity to determine whether they were safe enough to remain standing.
“It’s a huge loss for the citizens of Old Town,” Roy said. “They are some very responsible landlords who took advantage of the program. Unfortunately, that’s lost, and that’s tragic.”
The damaged buildings are all across from City Hall on the east side of Main Street and include a mix of businesses and apartments. The fire started on the third floor of 274 Main Street, where Serenity Salon and Spa opened on the ground floor almost a year ago.
It then spread to buildings in either direction, including the two that have Simple Things & Sweets and Cutting Edge in their bottom floors. It reached as far north as Yamas Bar and Grill at 268 Main Street, a Greek restaurant that opened in 2010 and recently used some of the local grants to renovate its roof and windows, according to Roy.
Investigators were unable to determine what caused the fire. Roy also expressed appreciation to community members who offered food and drinks to the firefighters as they were busy fighting the blaze late Saturday through Sunday.
The city is now working to connect local landlords whose properties have open space to business owners who have been displaced from their current properties, according to E.J. Roach, the city’s new economic development director who has been on the job for about a month.
While the fire was a setback for downtown development, Roach noted that there have been other positive changes in the small city, including new businesses locating at its Airport Business Park and the recent reopening of its paper mill, which created 130 jobs.
On Monday, business owners displaced by the blaze were still busy working with insurance adjusters and waiting to hear whether their properties were damaged beyond repair. Alexandra Rondo, a co-owner of Yamas Bar and Grill, said that her restaurant employs about 20 people and also has a group of dedicated customers.
“I’m hoping that we can keep the building and that we’re able to get up and running,” she said. “It’s affected a lot of the community, us not being open. It’s like a second home for a lot of people.”
The owner of Serenity Spa and Salon, Helen Mace, said that she was close to celebrating the first birthday of her business after opening it on Oct. 26, 2018. It provided massages, skin care and hair styling.
On Monday, Mace was finally allowed back into her ground floor space and salvaged a few pieces of equipment that had not been destroyed. Over the last year, she has built up a dedicated clientele that she’d like to hold onto. She is busy trying to find other open spaces to rent in or near downtown Old Town.
“I’m trying to figure out what happens next,” she said.