As the sun went down in the city’s West End section about 50 people, joined by Mayor Adam Schneider and City Councilman John Pallone and some area clergy members, gathered at the park to express some emotions and hold a candlelight vigil in recognition of the loss of property, and in one case, the loss of pets, suffered in the Feb. 13 fire.
“The idea is to restore hope, that everyone will rebuild their lives and Brighton Avenue,” Krista-Lynn Landolfi, one of the organizers and an area resident, explained a little earlier in the day.
Landolfi had gotten to the park a couple of hours earlier, setting up tables with notepads and pens. The purpose, she explained, was to allow the public to offer notes of sympathy for those impacted by the fire—“letters of hope” she called them–and notes of thanks to the area firefighters.
“There is a lot of hurt in the neighborhood,” Landolfi said.
“Everyone is pitching in to do what they can,” observed Lois Chick, Highlands. Chick, who works for the Long Branch Board of Education, and is a former city resident, said four local teachers were living in the apartments that were destroyed and there are a number of events planned to help them and the others. “All along Brighton things are going on,” including a fundraiser that was happening at the same time at Jack’s Rib and Ale House, 149 Brighton Ave.
Three buildings, containing businesses and 14 apartments succumbed to the fire, having to be leveled, being a safety risk, last week said City Fire Marshal Kevin Hayes Sr.
More than 100 firefighters were at the scene, with one member suffering a superficial injury, Hayes said.
Investigators believed the fire originated in the West End Dance Academy, 63 Brighton, Hayes said, though the cause is still under investigation.
Nicole Ceballos, who owned the dance studio, said she received a call from one her students telling her about the fire. “It’s terrible,” she said, adding, “Compared to people who lost their homes, we were lucky.”
The local chamber of commerce is assisting Ceballos in finding a new location. But, as she is about to give birth to her second child in April, “We might hold off until the baby is born,” Ceballos said.
“I know a lot of owners here. It’s very sad,” said Valerie Garcia, a city resident for most of her life.
Martin Grubman owned 57-61 Brighton since 1985. The building held 12 apartments and commercial space. “That was my baby,” he said, explaining he did a considerable amount of renovations to it. “I tried to make it beautiful,” he said.
Residents of the buildings formed their own community, where “everybody knows everybody in this goofy little building.” His heart goes out to the residents, who lost everything, he said. Only one had renters’ insurance. “It’s really terrible 12 families are without homes,” he said.
The buildings were about 100 years old, Schneider estimated. And Grubman said he hopes to rebuild.
There are other events planned to assist the families and small businesses, Landolfi said. Schneider said city officials would assist Grubman and others as much as possible.
“Sometimes it takes something like this to bring everybody together,” Garcia observed.