By Patrick Hedlund and Olivia Scheck
EAST VILLAGE — A fire tore through a string of stores on East 14th Street Wednesday morning, sending plumes of dark smoke into the air and heavily damaging at least five shops on the block.
The fire originated inside a small pizzeria, Pete’s-A-Place at 502 E. 14th St. near Avenue A, FDNY Deputy Chief James Donlevy said at the scene.
Fire marshals are currently investigating the cause of the blaze, he added.
Three firefighters sustained minor injuries but no civilians were harmed in the fire, the FDNY said.
The call came in at 10:18 a.m. to the row of one-story businesses near the corner of Avenue A across from the Stuyvesant Town complex.
Nearly 140 firefighters responded to the blaze, which hit three alarms by 11 a.m. and was brought under control just before 1 p.m.
“These buildings are notorious for fires spreading,” Donlevy said in reference to the stores’ shared roof and basement space.
The Stuyvesant Convenience Inc. Deli and Grocery at the corner of Avenue A, the largest of the five stores affected by the fire, appeared to bear the worst of the damage. The roof of the deli had already caved in as firefighters continued to extinguish smoldering bits inside the store around 4 p.m.
“I lost everything,” said Numan Hauter, 49, who’s owned the family-run, 24-hour deli for the past 20 years. “I lost my job. My guys, they lost their jobs.”
The pizza shop, along with an adjacent hair salon, tax services business and vacant store, were also all badly damaged in the blaze.
“It’s gutted. It’s all gone,” said Rena Mohamed, owner of the Permacut Beauty Salon for the past 18 years. “We grabbed our stuff and ran. The smoke overtook everything.”
An employee at Jackson Hewitt Tax Services, Rudy Singh, described his store as “destroyed.”
Workers at a neighboring Rainbow department store, which was not damaged by the inferno, bemoaned the situation.
“All the clothes is going to smell," said an assistant manager, who declined to give his name. "Everything is damaged."
A resident of the apartment building at 220 Avenue A, next door to the deli, said he ran outside when he heard the commotion and found employees scrambling to put out the fire by climbing to the roof with a fire extinguisher.
“I can’t believe that they [the Fire Department] weren’t called when I came out,” said Justin McBryan, 33, who finally dialed 911 himself.
“We were an inch away from the whole place burning down,” he added, noting that his apartment’s home office, where he was working at the time, shares a wall with the deli.
The damaged stores were popular among Stuyvesant Town residents, many of whom stopped to give Hauter, the deli owner, their condolences as he stood at the scene.
“It’s sad what happened, we’re going to miss it,” said Stuyvesant Town tenant Apoli Hiwali, who said she’s been going to the deli since it opened two decades ago. “This is our everyday stop.”
She said her daughter got her first haircut at the Permacut Salon and had her first slice of pizza at Pete’s-A-Place.
“We’re going to miss it greatly,” Hiwali said.
Scott MCool, 28, who works as a landscaper at Stuyvesant Town, said he went to the deli up to five times a day for meals and other items.
“It’s definitely going to make our lives a little harder,” he said. “Sometimes we work overtime and we’re there all night. That place is a like a godsend for us,” he added.
Hauter said he hoped his landlord would let the deli reopen once the building is repaired.
“I hope they… give us priority to stay there,” he said. “We want to stay here. It became like our home.”