By Trevor Kapp
INWOOD — Manny Ramirez gathered with supporters in Inwood Wednesday, just a few blocks away from his where his pharmacy stood before last week's massive three-alarm fire destroyed it along with a row of businesses dear to the community.
With two employees and several warm-hearted residents, Ramirez took the first step in resurrecting the decades-old Dichter Pharmacy at the neighborhood staple's planned new location at 4975 Broadway.
“It’s going to take time, but Inwood says [the community is] gonna come," said Ramirez, who worked at the store for years in the 80s and early 90s before buying it. "And I believe them.”
The group of volunteers gathered about 9 a.m. and got to work. On their hands and knees armed with brooms, paint rollers and tape measures, they inspected the doorway, painted the walls white and tried to figure out the best locations for cabinets and desks.
“It’s the community,” said 19-year-old Janelyn Witkowski, a sophomore at Iona College, who was home for winter break. “No matter who is affected, you have to help out.”
Late at night on Jan. 3, Ramirez, a married father, got a call at his New Jersey home from a staff member of City Councilman Robert Jackson saying that his store, at 4943 Broadway, was on fire.
“He said, ‘Manny, your store’s on fire,” Ramirez, 44, recalled. “I said, ‘Oh man, I’ll be right there.’”
“It was shock,” said Ramirez, who has owned the pharmacy for the last four years. “I was like, ‘I’m done. What am I going to do? How am I going to feed my family?‘”
The fire, believed to have been sparked by cleaners using an acetylene torch to cut a section of pipe, raged for hours and devastated nine local businesses.
The next morning, Ramirez returned to Inwood and met the owners from the nearby buildings, as well as several officials. With few other options, he decided he had to try to re-open as quickly as possible.
Ramirez said if all goes as scheduled, he will reopen Monday morning.
The volunteers insist they will give as much time as they can to help get Ramirez up and running again. Bill Baker, who has lived in the neighborhood the last 16 years, volunteered on his birthday.
“It’s the perfect present, to help someone else,” Baker, 39, said.
The new pharmacy may be less than half the size of his old, but regardless of dimensions, Ramirez said he is excited to return to doing what he loves — helping others.
“We’ll come back,” Ramirez said in between handshakes and ‘Thank yous’ with volunteers.