Parkton store burns down 1 month after opening

Owner's previous venture had been ruined by Isabel

October 16, 2004|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

A general store near the Northern Central Railroad Trail in Parkton was destroyed in an early-morning fire yesterday, a month after it was opened by a Pennsylvania chef who said he lost his last business in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Isabel.

The fire at the Little Gunpowder Falls General Store and Delicatessen started about 2:40 a.m. in the two-story, wood-frame building. The flames also burned telephone wires, leaving as many as 3,000 northern Baltimore County residents without telephone service for much of the day.

Deli owner Jerry Herbert spent yesterday surveying the charred remains of his business. The flames collapsed the roof and crumbled walls. Bicycles parked in a nearby rack melted from the heat of the flames.

"It's just devastating," said Herbert, a 41-year-old chef from New Freedom, Pa., who had about a dozen employees and ran the store with his wife, Mary Jane, and 13-year-old daughter Sara.

The store, which sold deli sandwiches and snowballs to hikers and cyclists and convenience items such as groceries and prepared dinners to nearby residents, had quickly become a popular destination.

"It was an especially popular attraction for trail users," said Mike Browning, manager of Gunpowder Falls State Park, who added that the bike rentals offered by the store were an amenity for visitors using the northern end of the trail. "And with the picnic tables outside, it had a neat atmosphere."

Jim White, who owns Monkton Bike Rental farther south on the trail, said, "It's tragic. You hate to see someone's hard work destroyed like that."

Before Herbert leased the building, hunting and sporting goods stores had operated there. After a $100,000 renovation to the building, the store opened in early September, Herbert said.

"It was a mom-and-pop-type grocery store down here in the hollow," Herbert said. "There are great people down here. I was having a lot of fun."

Herbert said his last business, Sara's Country Store - a similar operation in New Freedom - went under after he lost his inventory during the power outages that accompanied Tropical Storm Isabel.

Despite the string of misfortune, Herbert, who was insured, was fairly optimistic yesterday about rebuilding the business.

"I'm a chef, not much of a carpenter," he said. "But a building is a building. It can be taken apart and put back together. ... Nobody got seriously hurt, that's what I care about. If somebody had died, this would be a tragedy. Right now it's just a setback."

Three firefighters suffered minor injuries fighting the one-alarm blaze, said Lt. Vernon Adamson, a Fire Department spokesman.

About 40 firefighters spent more than four hours dousing the building to make sure the fire didn't rekindle. They were able to draft water from the stream that runs behind the store, Adamson said.

The cause of the fire remained under investigation, fire officials said.

Phone service was restored to customers by last night, said Sandra Arnette, a Verizon spokeswoman.

The damaged phone lines also disconnected two cellular towers, causing spotty cellular service in the area yesterday morning, according to John Johnson, a Verizon Wireless spokesman.

Because residents were left without the ability to call 911 from their homes or their cell phones, extra police officers were dispatched to patrol the area, and extra firefighters were assigned to area firehouses, officials said.

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