Fire wrecks Brookside Hardware; owner vows to bring back business
Employees escape after blast ignites rambling structure near Margaretville
By Brian Sweeney
Brookside Hardware, a fixture on Route 28, Margaretville for 20 years, was destroyed by a towering fire Wednesday afternoon.
The blaze apparently began when gas fumes from Brookside‚Äôs motor vehicle shop were ignited by a spark from a coal-burning stove. Three explosions ensued and fire spread rapidly throughout the sprawling structure.
Six employees were in the store when the fire broke out shortly after 4 p.m. and all escaped injury. Co-owner Will Finch of Roxbury said he had just entered the repair shop as the explosion occurred. Flames raced up his pant legs, but he ran to his office to call 9-1-1.
Mr. Finch said he planned to douse the flames on his clothing in a pile of snow near the doorway, but the fire on his pants burned out by the time he made the call.
‚ÄúIt was quite an explosion,‚Äù he recalled. ‚ÄúIt‚Äôs amazing to me that by the time I could get 9-1-1 that the windows were blowing out.‚Äù
He then worked with other employees to make sure the building was evacuated. There were also six rental apartments (three currently rented) and one tenant, Elsie West, had to be awakened to escape the blaze.
A short time later, Mr. Finch was taken across the highway to Margaretville Memorial Hospital for treatment of stress-related symptoms. He was released from the emergency room several hours later.
The fire started with a huge explosion and two smaller blasts followed. By the time firefighters arrived shortly after 4 p.m., flames were already shooting from the roof of the garage area. The intensity of the blaze, coupled with high winds, quickly moved the fire through the building, engulfing the structure in less than an hour.
Volunteers from about a dozen fire companies battled the blaze into the early morning hours. More than 100 firefighters were on the scene and dozens of others performed standby duties. In addition, Margaretville Hospital had two ambulances on the scene and also brought Mountain-side‚Äôs van down for use by firefighters in need of relief from battling the blaze.
No injuries were reported despite extreme heat and the highly flammable nature of many of the products in the building, including gasoline, oil, paint and nearby propane storage tanks.
Products sold at Brookside include hardware, plumbing equipment, animal feed and a John Deere lawn mower dealership. The company also has a busy used automobile dealership.
Back in business
Despite the total loss of the building, a portion of Brookside was back in business on Thursday. As crews worked to demolish the remnants of the building, a trailer was moved in and the ‚Äúopen‚Äù sign was turned on for the used car business.
‚ÄúI sold a car at 7 a.m. Thursday as they were hooking down the last wall on the building,‚Äù Mr. Finch recalled.
It‚Äôs that kind of support that has Mr. Finch anxious to get the business fully operational.
‚ÄúOur game plan is to stay in business,‚Äù he explained. ‚ÄúOur hope is to come back the same as we were before.‚Äù
Mr. Finch said the business was insured and all the legal work must be sorted out before a rebuilding plan can be set.
In the meantime, the Brookside staff is working to pick up the pieces of the business and move forward. They have received great encouragement from friends, neighbors and customers.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs unbelievable, I‚Äôve never seen anything like it in my life. We‚Äôve had just overwhelming community support,‚Äù commented Mr. Finch.
The business was started at the Hubbell Brothers complex in Kelly Corners by Will‚Äôs father, Richard Finch, and Mary Hinkley.
In the early days, the enterprise also included a carpet and flooring business as well as refuse hauling. The refuse business was eventually sold.
The former creamery building was purchased in February 1988 and, after renovations, the business opened on Route 28 on June 1, 1988.
Will, his brother, Steve, and Mary operated the business for many years. Steve sold his interest several years ago when he accepted a position with Delaware County. Mary and Will still each own half of the business, although Mary had recently retired from working at the store.
The company has eight full-time workers and two seasonal employees.
Mr. Finch recalled that the business was also hard hit by another tragic event ‚Äî the January 1996 flood. That historic event saw the adjacent East Branch of the Delaware River pour water into the building a foot higher than the counter. A pen mark on the door frame indicated the water height from that catastrophic event. The Brookside owners persevered and were soon back in business.
Over the years, the building served many purposes, including use as a creamery, a plumbing supply store and several years as a restaurant and bar called ‚ÄúRicci‚Äôs Two,‚Äù replacing the legendary Arkville bar and grill that was razed. Mary Hinkley said she thinks the building was probably built in the 1920s or ‚Äô30s.
In less than an hour last Wednesday, all of that history went up in flames.
Despite the loss of a building whose component sections totaled more than 10,000 square feet, the realization among employees was one of good fortune because no one was injured.
Kim Skala was the newest member of the Brookside staff and she recalled the shock of Wednesday afternoon‚Äôs events
‚ÄúI was right behind the counter when the windows started exploding. They came in told us you‚Äôd better get out and then I saw the black smoke billowing out,‚Äù Ms. Skala told the News.