Fire destroys neighborhood grocery 'I don't know what I'm going to do,' owner says

September 18, 1996|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

A smoky three-alarm fire that burned out of control for more than two hours yesterday morning destroyed a West Baltimore grocery store that had been a neighborhood fixture for years.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," said the owner, Tae Kim, as he watched firefighters continue to pour water on the smoldering remains of City Food Market in the 1300 block of W. North Ave. "This neighborhood is good. The people here are real nice."

Yvonne Burrell, 30, said she shopped at the store for five years. "It's the only supermarket we have," she said. "It was really convenient. I thought maybe it was a little fire, but my God, the store is gone."

The fire was reported shortly before 5 a.m. But fire officials said they believe the store had been burning for hours before the fire was discovered. The blaze was under control at 6: 54 a.m.

Battalion Chief Hector L. Torres, a department spokesman, said investigators believe the fire at the one-story cinder block building was caused by an electrical malfunction. Damage was estimated at $350,000.

The more than 50 firefighters who fought the blaze reported trouble getting inside. The 50-by-100-foot building had windows in the front that were sealed by steel security curtains.

Torres said two steel doors in the back were bolted from the inside. "There was virtually no way for firefighters to get in," he said. "That created a big problem."

Firefighters used chain saws to cut through the steel curtain in front and battering rams to make a hole in the cinder block wall in back.

By that time, Torres said, the wall began to crack and, fearing a collapse, firefighters were ordered to stay out of the building.

Kim said he took over the business about two years ago, but residents said the grocery store had served the community for at least two decades.

Customers said Kim routinely let residents buy on credit when they came up short on cash and often carried bags of food to their homes.

"This market has always been there," said Vannessa Barlow, 40. "Mr. Kim was the nicest."

Pub Date: 9/18/96

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