Fire victims ask federal, city sources for relief Many small businesses were ruined in blaze at Hollins Street Exchange

November 23, 1995|By Norris P. West | Norris P. West,SUN STAFF

Small business owners whose fledgling enterprises were devastated by an 11-alarm fire at the Hollins Street Exchange two weeks ago have turned to city and federal officials at a makeshift disaster relief center in the neighborhood.

More than 30 business owners have visited the center since it was opened Saturday by the city's Office of Emergency Management at the Enoch Pratt Free Library's Hollins-Payson branch.

Jerome Hall, of Albert & Hall's Towing, was among the small entrepreneurs who filled out applications for federal loans and housing assistance. Like other business owners, he lived and worked at the Hollins Street Exchange.

"We're still counting things up," said Mr. Hall, 41, when asked how much he lost in the fire. "It's somewhere between $25,000 and $30,000."

He said his business, operating with a pair of tow trucks and a pickup, was 2 years old. He said he was worried that he never would find space as cheap as the $1 per square foot he was paying and doubtful that his emergency loan application would be approved.

Mr. Hall filled out an application with U.S. Small Business Administration employees, who manned a desk at the relief center earlier this week. The SBA will determine if the applicants qualify for low-interest disaster loans.

People seeking information about SBA disaster loans may call 1-800-659-2955.

Also at the relief center were representatives from the American Red Cross and the city's Housing Relocation office.

The blaze that destroyed the seven-story Hollins Street Exchange early Nov. 10 was described by firefighters as one of the city's most spectacular in decades. Flames shot 150 feet into fTC the air, destroying 50 businesses and living spaces. Enterprises ranging from furniture makers to recording studios occupied the Southwest Baltimore building.

Fire officials said homeless people trying to keep warm started the blaze.

Richard McCoy, of the city's emergency management office, said the fire hurt many people who recently had gone into business. "They didn't have a lot to start with," Mr. McCoy said. "Getting them back into the mainstream is going to take some time."

As government officials accepted applications for aid, the fire continued to smolder 11 days after it began. Smoke rose from the remains of the structure.

Jim Green, who lives nearby, watched the smoke drift into the morning air as he worked to salvage bricks that had tumbled from the building in the 2300 block of Hollins St.

He and other salvagers banged the bricks together to knock off debris as a fire engine moved slowly down Lipps Street, which runs diagonally to Hollins on one side of the triangular exchange building.

Mr. Green said he got permission from the building's owners to take the bricks, claiming he needed them to build a house. He marveled at the patch of smoke. "I can't understand why that fire keeps coming back," Mr. Green said. "That one spot just keeps on burning."

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