INWOOD — Days after a three-alarm fire ravaged a building in the heart of Inwood, hundreds of locals rallied in a show of support for the mom-and-pop businesses that it destroyed.
Despite the charred building being so damaged it has to be demolished, many who gathered over the weekend said they were hopeful for the future.
As the business owners sifted through their own emotions and the planned how to their businesses back up and running, there was a sense of optimism among the destruction.
“We stayed there and watched the building burn down that night, but ... like the phoenix comes back from the ashes, Inwood will rise again," Dichter’s Pharmacy owner Manny Ramirez said.
Ramirez received an added boost of support when Inwood resident and Tony winning "In the Heights" writer and performer Lin-Manuel Miranda tweeted his followers a request to support the business.
More than 300 people packed Holy Trinity Church Friday evening in what local Inwood mother Shannon Park called “Inwood’s ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ moment,” with residents stuffing the room to donate money and offer assistance for local businesses and employees. Approximately $4,000 was collected at the event.
“The fire was ugly, but this is beautiful,” said Inwood resident Chris Travis, who serves as pastor of the Everyday Church, an Inwood church that opened in 2011.
The congregation pledged $2,000 toward the support effort. Several local churches, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and Good Shepherd Church, also offered space and assistance.
The church was selected for the meeting after an offer of space at the Indian Road Café turned out to be too small for the hundreds of residents who RSVPed to the event organized by the Inwood Community Group, an online group formed on Facebook the day after the Tues., Jan. 3 blaze.
Business owners Marcela Xavier of Bread an Yoga, Shabbir Ali of Burhan Hardware, Amine Benmesbah of Furry Fiends and Larry Rosman, a lawyer who operated his office from the second floor of the building, joined residents in the packed auditorium to discuss the status of the building and their businesses.
Ali said he was wonderfully surprised to see how much support his store had received in the past days, considering it was a "new kid on the block" and only opened in Inwood last summer.
Neighbors expressed concern for the affected businesses and employees and spoke of ways to help them get back on their feet.
A fund has been set up through local neighborhood nonprofit Inwood Community Services. All funds will go “directly to the people affected by the fire,” organizers said.
Inwood’s vast network of artists, including actors, musicians, comedians and singers who perform on Broadway and worldwide, also offered to organize a benefit event featuring local talent.
Space for benefit events, as well as desk space for businesses trying to get back on their feet, was offered by local businesses and haunts like Piper’s Kilt, which sits directly across from the torched building and was filled with smoke the night of the fire.
Other Inwood residents offered free construction services, bake sales, volunteer efforts from teens involved in a local after school program, and even the creation of an Inwood flea market in order to raise money for the rebuilding effort.
After the event, approximately 100 people gathered at Le Cheile in Washington Heights to attend a benefit concert organized by performers Karavan Kosmiko, which included Dana Hanchard, Jimmy Cruiz, Ruben Gonzales, and David Ellenbogen, for Bread and Yoga, which is looking to reopen in Inwood as soon as possible.
Xavier, the yoga studio’s owner, said she remains committed to staying in Inwood.
“The studio became a sanctuary, a second home,” she said. “That’s what we want it to be again.”
The event raised enough money to buy mats and yoga equipment to begin classes once a space is secured, organizers said.
The next morning, dog lovers from throughout the neighborhood gathered to attend an event held in Inwood Hill Park's dog run Homer's Run. The “Coffee Bark,” organized by members of Inwoof, including Furry Fiends owner Benmesbah who said he is quickly working to find a new space near the old store.
“We are grateful to all of you,” he said, adding that he hoped to reopen within a month.
Furry Fiends’ stock was kept in an adjacent building and was not affected by the fire.
Although most residents remained focused on the immediate needs of the businesses throughout the weekend, some expressed concern about the future of the site and how the current landlord might want to develop the space.
“It’s a shame that the mom and pop shops are being pushed out,” Inwood mother Shannon Park said Friday night. “We’re not going to look like the Upper West Side.”
Those interested in making a tax deductible donation to help the affected businesses and employees can write a check to Inwood Community Services with “Fire Relief Drive” in the memo of the check. Send payment to 651 Academy Street, New York, NY 10034.
Donations can also be made directly to Bread and Yoga through its website and Dichter’s Pharmacy through the group Friends of Manny Ramirez.
Those interested in making a donation to Furry Fiends directly can contact the store through its Facebook page.