A two-alarm blaze Friday morning at Jim’s South St. that drew over a hundred firefighters left the Philadelphia landmark in poor condition and cut off power to many nearby residents and businesses.
City officials said there were no injuries, and second-generation proprietor Ken Silver has pledged to rebuild the business his father co-founded in 1976.
“We had a rough day,” Jim’s Steaks wrote on social media Friday evening, next to a photo of firefighters working to douse the building. “Our staff, these folks, and many others kept everyone safe. We thank them and you all.”
Over its 46 years, Jim’s has become a Philly icon. It’s patronized by both tourists and locals, and traditionally has cultivated a booming late-night business, often boasting a long line that winds around the corner from its 400 South St. location.
Here’s what we know about the fire, and what might happen going forward.
Update: Jim’s Steaks owner says fire damage isn’t as bad as originally thought, targets spring 2023 reopening on South Street
How did the fire start?
It appeared to start in the HVAC system.
The first sign of a problem was when Jim’s assistant manager Chrstina Lawlor arrived shortly after 7 a.m., she told reporters, and the air conditioning wasn’t working. Contractors were called to look into the problem, and she began setting up for the day.
A few hours later, Lawlor said, she noticed that “it smelled electrical.” She and her crew looked up and saw smoke pouring down from where the walk-in refrigerator is located. She evacuated the staff, and called for help.
The first fire companies began investigating smoke in the building around 9:25 a.m., the Fire Department said, and it took four hours to bring it under control. The Fire Marshal’s Office will launch a deeper investigation into the cause.
How much damage was there?
More than 125 firefighters were called to fight the fire, according to Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel, who said the heat of the 90-plus degree day made things more difficult. Nearly 60 emergency and city vehicles participated in the response.
The building dates back to 1900, per city records. Thiel said concerns about a possible collapse like the one that recently killed a veteran firefighter in North Philly led him to pull people out and have them work from the outside to control the blaze.
Emergency workers planned to continue working throughout the evening, according to OEM Director Dominick Mireles.
With all the smoke and water, the building could be a “total loss,” Silver told The Inquirer. But he pledged to rebuild, saying, “I owe it to my father’s legacy.”
How can affected people get help?
About 300 nearby residents were temporarily left without power, PECO said.
The city’s Department of Emergency Management activated an emergency reception center at Starr Garden Rec Center at Sixth and Lombard streets, where residents without power were invited to cool off or charge devices through midnight Friday.
What about Jim’s staff?
Commenters online have been asking about a fundraiser to support staff at Jim’s while the business is closed. We’ll update if we hear of one (or let us know).
What other businesses were affected?
It’s been a rough summer for the lower blocks of the South Street corridor, which were rocked by a deadly shooting in June.
Streets around the Jim’s intersection were expected to remain temporarily shut to traffic, according to the South Street Headhouse District, which noted several businesses were also forced to remain closed.
Longstanding art and clothing boutique Eye’s Gallery is directly next door to Jim’s, and its state was unknown Friday evening, owner Julia Zagar told The Inquirer.
Bar and restaurant MilkBoy, right across from Jim’s on the opposite corner of South Street, appeared unscathed. It offered condolences on Instagram, posting, “Our thoughts are with our neighbors today, thank goodness there were no injuries, but some of our favorite businesses were devastated by fire, smoke & water.”
What is Jim’s known for?
The South Street location was originally opened by Abner Silver and a partner as an offshoot of a West Philadelphia cheesesteak shop, but over the past half-century has created its own lore.
Included in that legacy is the tradition of picking up a giant slice of pizza from nearby Lorerenzo’s and wrapping it around a Jim’s cheesesteak to create what’s known as a “Philly Taco” or “South Street Taco.”
Steaks from Jim’s are of the chopped variety. Red slices of beef pulled off their stacks at the edge of the grill are tossed until well frizzled. A roll lined with cheese slices is laid over the top, then a paddle flips the whole thing so the (optional) fried onions can be laid down the middle.
Silver is adamant that people should eat what they like and not feel ashamed or worried about placing the proper order or using certain words. “There is no ‘right way’ to order a cheesesteak,” he told Billy Penn last year.
The shop also sells hoagies, and is generally a welcoming, friendly place. Its atmosphere is exemplified by this clip from 2016, when the entire late-night line broke out singing Boyz II Men.