(This article first appeared in the January 11, 2017 issue of The Independent Newspaper)
When the massive fire broke out in the historic village of Sag Harbor on the frigid morning of December 16, businesses, homes and memories all fell victim to the roaring flames that ripped through Main Street.
One of those businesses, the historic Sag Harbor Cinema, located at 90 Main Street, left a gaping wound in the heart of the community. The iconic, neon lettered building was originally opened in 1915 as a single screen theater, rumored to have played the first talkie movie on the East End. In its over one hundred year history, Sag Harbor Cinema has been the host to films across every genre and welcomed thousands of faces from near and far. The building was demolished following the fire, but the beloved sign was saved and stored.
“Everybody here is sad about the demise of the theater. It was a gem. Sag Harbor is such a unique, historical, closely knit community. But the damage will somehow be restored,” expressed local resident Lara Perschke.
What is said to be the worst fire on the South Fork in over two decades also engulfed the two family businesses run by Tisha Collette and her husband Shane Dyckman. Collette, a luxury consignment shop, and SagTown Coffee are now permanently closed but have raised over $6500 for staff rendered jobless by the disaster on their Crowdrise page.
Michael Lynch, who had just moved in to an apartment above Compass Realty lost everything. He could have lost his life, too, if not for SHPD officer Randy Steyert who awakened him. A Crowdrise page set up to help him has raised over $15,800 so far.
The devastation that took place right before Christmas left many worrying about how small businesses would be affected.
“The community really came together because of the fire,” Lisa Field, owner of Sag Harbor Variety Store and President of the Chamber of Commerce, explained. “Many people came into Sag Harbor to shop locally to support the businesses. They kept asking, ‘How do we help with the rebuilding?'”
Field is optimistic about what the future holds for her town and encourages the public to visit. “We’re open for business, we’re alive and well. We have great shops, keep coming to Sag Harbor.”
It’s hope that keeps the pulse going strong in this grieving neighborhood. Though the physical damage remains, due to quick and effective responders who battled the blaze in freezing and harsh conditions, no lives were lost.
Joseph Traina, owner of Page at 63 Main, aimed to give recognition to those who risked their lives putting the fire out. With his management team, friends and family, a fundraiser was conceived to honor the heroes. On Sunday over 150 people gathered at the restaurant, despite the snowy weather and icy road conditions, to benefit the first responders.
“There has been a whole outpouring of people who would like to do something to plug up the hole in the community . . . it could have been so much more tragic. We owe them an enormous amount of gratitude for their efforts and bravery,” said Traina. “It hit a chord with everyone.”
The fire department is reliant on volunteers and the money raised from the event goes directly towards not for profit affiliations ranging from fire losses to the boy scouts. Thomas Horn Sr, best recognized from his years of collecting donations outside of the local firehouse, collected donations at the event.
Local photographer Michael Heller captured the scenes from that ill-fated day. His extraordinary and evocative photographs of the day were displayed on a “Wall of Heroes” at Traina’s restaurant and available for purchase, with one hundred percent of proceeds going towards fire responders. Close to $1500 was raised in photography sales alone at the event.
A boarded up building, scorched brickwork and the hole where the cinema stood on Main Street are reminders of what is irreversibly lost but also serve as the groundwork for a strong, rebuilding community.
The RJD Gallery, where many works of art were lost, has started construction at a new location in Bridgehampton. Their goal is to re-open in March. In a release this week, gallery staff said, “We have greatly appreciated the thousands of comments, tweets, and outpouring of empathy on social media that we have received and encourage you to keep your friends informed, by letting them know RJD is rebounding, and will soon have a new physical space.”
On Monday, Assemblyman Fred Thiele reported that state and federal officials continue to consider a declaration permitting disaster loan assistance for local businesses that suffered economic loss due to the fire.
The Small Business Administration will be working with New York State to qualify Sag Harbor for relief based on economic injury. Economic injury disaster loans can be used to advance funds to business based on what they would have earned if not for the fire. Such working capital can be very helpful to small businesses, especially during the lean winter months. It is estimated that at least 50 businesses have suffered economic injury due to the fire.