Harlem residents suffer loss after massive fire destroys businesses


HARLEM, Manhattan – After a fire tore through a strip of businesses in Harlem early Wednesday morning, residents will now be without resources they have relied on for years and because of past legal battles, they don’t believe the fire was accidental. 

On Thursday, workers painted over newly installed plywood surrounding the row of commercial stores on Lenox Avenue between 135th and 133rd streets.

About 200 firefighters responded to the five-alarm fire at around 3 a.m.

Lifelong Harlem resident Dolly Parks said she woke up from the smell of smoke in the middle of the night.

“A lot of times when Harlem businesses go up in smoke, they don’t return,” Park said. “It’s sad to see something like this happen in my neighborhood.”

Sylvia Harris, another Harlem resident, said these destroyed businesses are a big loss to the neighborhood.

“There were stores here that people used and it meant a lot to the people in the community,” Harris said. “Not to have them is going to hurt them considerably.”

“Especially the fish market,” Parks added. “My mother and I always come here to get our fish, fried fish. [At] Sesinko, I had just gotten my son some sneakers about a month ago to get ready for his birthday later on this month.”

Between the plywood being put up and painted and the construction work being done inside, crews are working quickly to recover the loss, but residents aren’t hopeful that any of these businesses will reopen at all.

“Management wanted these corner lots to put up buildings and they’ve been fighting in court for years now,” Parks said.

Lenox Terrace, the apartment complex on the block, was rejected for rezoning plans early last year by the City Council to build more residential buildings on site.

“It wasn’t very surprising to me when I saw the fire and immediately I thought this is how they’re going to get what they wanted, so it’s very suspicious,” Harris said.

 Commercial stores on the other side of the complex on Fifth Avenue, also owned by Lenox Terrace, have sat vacant for more than 10 years.

Residents will now have to wait and see what the future holds for the new strip of stores now damaged and closed on Lenox Avenue.

When PIX11 News reached out for comment to The Olnick Organization, the management company of Lenox Terrace, for a response to these claims, they replied:

“This was a terrible incident that could have been much worse, and we are grateful for the swift and courageous action of the first responders who brought this fire under control with no serious injuries.   We have been working closely with the Fire Department, Fire Marshall, Office of Emergency Management and Police Department to secure the site and determine the cause of the fire. Our thoughts are with our long-time commercial tenants, who we will be working with to assist during this difficult time.”

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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