INWOOD — A beloved neighborhood pet store lost in a massive Inwood fire in January is slated to take the place of a longtime dry cleaner that will be closing in mid-March after serving area residents for 36 years.
Furry Fiends pet store is set to reopen at 630 W. 207th St., across the street from its previous storefront, which was on the ground floor of the two-story retail space that was demolished after a Jan. 3 fire left the building in danger of collapse.
Furry Fiends and nine other storefronts were lost in the fire. Two stores have reopened — Bread and Yoga, in a temporary space at Holy Trinity Church at 20 Cumming St., and Dichter Pharmacy, at 4975 Broadway.
The pet store will take the place of Continental Cleaners, as owner Vasken Ohanyan retires after 36 years of running the dry cleaning store between Broadway and Cooper Street.
Amine Benmesbah, 28, said he hopes to open the new pet shop before the birth of his first child, which he and his wife are expecting in mid-April. Ohanyan said he will close for good on March 16.
The 80-year-old dry cleaner, known to all by his middle name George, said the decision to retire was "bittersweet."
"My customers say they will miss me, but I know this is the right time to go," he said.
Ohanyan not only leaves behind his store, but a part of Inwood history as one of the area's few immigrants from Armenia.
Ohanyan, a dry cleaner and tailor who holds two masters degrees in French and linguistics and lives in New Jersey, took over an existing dry cleaning shop from an Italian man who decided to move back to Italy. Ohanyan's brother told him it would be a shrewd business venture.
Ohanyan said he was seeking a new direction in life after he walked away from his post as an Armenian Orthodox Church bishop — the highest order in the church. He took his brother’s advice, and opened his shop in 1976.
He decided to sell the store to Benmesbah for an undisclosed amount after a failed attempt to sell Continental Cleaners to another dry cleaner last year.
Benmesbah, who is originally from Algiers, and Ohanyan speak to one another in a blend of English, French and Arabic. They call the sale a "win-win" for both parties — and the community.
"It’s a new era," Ohanyan said.
When the pet store reopens in the larger space it will look decidedly different from the dry-cleaning store, which is now strewn with hanging clothing, thread and fabric.
Pet food and toys will soon fill the cavernous room that now holds a lone sewing machine table and a lamp, where Ohanyan has toiled for years.
Benmesbah said he hopes to continue Ohanyan’s tradition of being a loyal businessman in the neighborhood. He also said he's looking forward to reopening so that he can repay his debts to the community, which he says supported him in tremendous ways after the fire.
"I was speechless," he said, "It’s now time to return the favor."