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Floral Park, community coming to aid of businesses hit hard by fire

Firefighters at the scene Sunday of a fire

Firefighters at the scene Sunday of a fire in a row of stores on Covert Avenue in Floral Park. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

One day after a fire damaged or destroyed 10 businesses in Floral Park, village officials said they are prepared to help owners beset by sudden loss, and a crowdsourcing effort appeared on the way to reaching its $30,000 goal.

The blaze early Sunday moved fast through a busy and beloved hub viewed by many as a central community gathering spot for residents of Floral Park, Franklin Square, and Stewart Manor.

An initial call came in at 6:32 a.m. reporting a fire at Park Place Restaurant & Bar at 41 Covert Ave., Nassau County Assistant Chief Fire Marshal Michael F. Uttaro said Monday. By the time firefighters from several departments brought the fire under control about noon, the restaurant and at least five other businesses had sustained severe damage, Uttaro said.

The fire, which started in the kitchen area of the restaurant, is not considered suspicious, officials said. Investigators were unable to determine the exact cause "due to the collapse of the kitchen," Uttaro said.

On Monday, Floral Park officials pledged to work hand-in-hand with affected business owners to do whatever possible to help moving forward. Village building inspectors, as well as insurance adjusters and affected business owners will assess damages and determine whether rebuilding is a viable option, officials said.

"The village is absolutely committed to working with these businesses," Village Administrator Gerard M. Bambrick said. "It's a tragedy."

Bambrick called the affected businesses "an important part of the village."

It's not just the village vowing to help.

"Covert Avenue Strong," a GoFundMe page set up for private donations to help affected businesses, was moving closer to its goal of collecting $30,000. By Monday night, the page had raised nearly $19,000.

Nadia Holubnyczyj-Ortiz, 52, of Floral Park, who launched the GoFundMe page, said Sunday's fire was devastating to the business owners, many of whom she knows on a first-name basis.

"They are constantly giving to the community. Our nature is to give back to them in their time of need," Holubnyczyj-Ortiz said. "I needed to do something to help in any way. I know I wasn’t alone. That’s what Floral Park does — Floral Park comes together to help."

Holubnyczyj-Ortiz said she will soon transfer funds from the campaign to another GoFundMe effort by the Covert Avenue Chamber of Commerce with the same goal — helping the business owners.

"All businesses were affected by fire, smoke and water," read a message on the "Covert Avenue Strong" GoFundMe page. "Our Floral Park residents and the loving communities surrounding us immediately showed an outpouring of support. The goal of this fundraiser was to provide financial support to the affected merchants."

The fire damage to businesses has forced owners — already struggling to recover during the coronavirus pandemic — to face more economic peril.

Paul Capoziello, who has owned Capo Ristorante with his wife, Ingrid, since 2009, said Sunday that he had been trying to rebuild the business after revenues dried up during the coronavirus shutdown.

"It’s a hard pill to swallow. We went through COVID, helping the hospitals," he said. " … We’ll have to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and rebuild."

Capoziello said his restaurant celebrated its 11th anniversary over the summer. Capo had changed its menu to attract new customers, adding lobster rolls during the summer.

"We were coming out of it really well at this point," he said.

Mark Simko, 61, owner of Covert Optical, said he had mixed feelings about the fire given his store was one of two left undamaged. He said other business owners are facing prospects of not reopening.

"I feel terrible for them. Some of the guys there are just devastated," said Simko, of Franklin Square. "For me, it’s been a rough year. I have to find another place to move my business to."

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran wrote on Twitter Sunday afternoon: "My heart breaks for the small businesses along Covert Avenue … that were devastated by today’s fire."

Also Sunday on Twitter, Hempstead Supervisor Don Clavin described a "heartbreaking morning in Floral Park as many restaurant and shop owners along Covert Avenue found their businesses and livelihoods destroyed by a devastating fire."

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