Twenty-three hours after firefighters declared under control a two-alarm blaze that consumed the business his father had opened nearly 50 years ago, Jim’s Steaks owner Ken Silver got some better-than-expected news.
The cheesesteak shop’s building at Fourth and South streets was declared stable. He and a crew could enter and immediately start to rebuild.
“It’s actually better than I thought it was going to be,” Silver told Billy Penn Saturday afternoon, after having expressed gratitude that no one was injured during the emergency. He watched as workers carted out bags of trash and nailed plywood to the windows. “Turns out the building is really strong.”
There’s a GoFundMe set up where people can donate to the Jim’s South St. Employee Relief Fund to support the shop’s 33 workers. “It all goes to staff,” Silver said. There’s another GoFundMe to support Eye’s Gallery, the Latin American craft and clothing boutique next door, which is in ruins after being soaked by water and suffused with smoke.
The fire, thought to have started in the HVAC system, burned through the tall rowhome structure for four hours on Friday morning, with over 125 firefighters working to eventually bring it under control around 1:30 p.m. First responders worked through the night to make sure the fire was out.
Around 12:30 p.m. Saturday, Silver got the all-clear.
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The bones of the structure, in which his father cofounded Jim’s Steaks in 1976 and which city records date back to 1900, were found to be safe. However, the rest of the interior of the shop, which had an order counter downstairs and a dining room on the second floor, was destroyed.
“We’re just gonna gut it. It’s all gonna come down,” Silver said of the interior. Not having to raze the structure and start from scratch puts him way ahead of where he originally thought. Instead of targeting “late 2024” for a reopening, he’s hoping for spring 2023. “Memorial Day next year,” Silver said with a grin.
Next door at 402 South St., Eye’s Gallery was an unexpected mess.
Proprietor Julia Zagar, whose husband’s famous mosaics decorate the store’s facade, opened it in that very location way back in 1968. Standing Saturday afternoon outside a fence barring the gallery’s entrance, she gazed at the door, uncertain what to do.
“There’s feet of water in there,” Zagar said. Even things that aren’t wet may be ruined by smoke. “It’s all stinky.”
She was reluctant to guess whether the store would be rebuilt, saying only “We will have to decide what to do.” No matter what, though, she knows people are pulling for her and her family. “So many people have reached out. It’s overflowing.”