Cleanup begins for victims of fire

Shop owners welcome signs of life amid damage left by blaze

November 12, 1999|By Kris Antonelli | Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

Ashley, a plump gray and white cat missing for almost two days since a fire broke out in historic Ellicott City, emerged grumpy and hungry yesterday morning from the basement of Caplan's Department Store -- a welcome sign of life for Main Street merchants.

"As soon as I came in, I called for her," said Sue Graham, a clerk at Caplan's.

While Ashley spent the rainy day lounging on a floral Victorian sofa in the back of the shop, construction crews built plywood fences around the burned-out buildings and shop owners talked excitedly about weekend business. Fire investigators were seeking the cause of the blaze, which started at Main Street Blues restaurant about 3 p.m. Tuesday.

"No one comes down here when it rains anyway," said Charlene Townsend, owner of Maxine's Antiques and Collectibles. "But I am sure we will be busy again this weekend when the weather is going to be beautiful."

Late Wednesday, firefighters extinguished the last of the hot spots, and demolition crews began taking down the top floors of the damaged shops. By early yesterday morning, Main Street, which had been closed since the fire broke out, was open to traffic and pedestrians, merchants said.

Main Street merchants, who count on business from holiday crowds, were upbeat yesterday.

"They are doing a great job getting all that stuff cleaned up," Townsend said. "After the last fire, it was a mess. There was nothing but a black hole with all the soot in it."

Linda Fisher, owner of Fisher's Bakery, which burned down in a blaze Nov. 14, 1984, that destroyed six buildings, said she was also pleased that the cleanup seemed to be going so swiftly. She credited County Executive James N. Robey with organizing the effort.

Robey and other county officials, worried that publicity about the fire would hurt holiday business, set up a hot line reassuring callers that it was safe to visit Main Street. Callers to 410-313- ECOK can also be connected directly to the county public information office if they have questions.

Reports of burned-out businesses didn't stop some people from shopping on their day off.

Leo and Diane Brandt of Glen Burnie said they had planned a trip to Ellicott City for weeks, and they were not disappointed.

"It looked a lot worse on television than it really is," Leo Brandt said as he stood on Main Street looking at the charred buildings. "We were worried about it after we saw it on TV, but we called the shop ahead and they said everything was fine."

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