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Storefronts Demolished After Fire

Five storefronts on Willis Avenue in Williston Park were gutted after a five-alarm fire on Thursday, July 23 at around 2:40 a.m., Williston Park Fire Department officials said. Construction crews could be seen demolishing the row of stores as late as 2 p.m. last Thursday.


The fire was under control at around 4:30 a.m. No injuries were reported, officials noted.


Williston Park fire units responded at 2:44 a.m. According to department Chief Gary Smithing, the blaze started in the Village Cobbler Shoe Repair Shop at 617 Willis Ave.


“When we arrived, the fire was blowing out the front window [of the shoe shop],” Smithing said. “Then, [the fire] just took off.”


Smithing said the fire spread to additional buildings via a shared space above the stores called a cockloft.


“[The cockloft] is a problem with these types of buildings,” he stated. “The old-style construction have common cocklofts, which is a void space between the roof and the ceiling line that goes from one end of the building to the other. When the fire gets up in there, it spreads fast.”


The storefronts at 615, 617, 619, 621, and 623 Willis Ave., including a bar, laundromat, nail salon, shoe repair shop and plumbing business were shuttered, officials said. Sections of the laundromat, plumbing business and hair salon were in pieces, but still standing Thursday afternoon. The next business, a dentist office, suffered damage but remains intact.


The Mineola Fire Department department arrived at 2:49 a.m. The Mineola Volunteer Ambulance Corp was also on scene.


“There was a big amount of fire when we first arrived on scene,” said MFD Chief Jeff Clark. “To everyone’s knowledge, there was no life danger inside, but there was a cautious approach to not send anyone inside unnecessarily.”


Officials reported partial roof collapses to the storefronts during the fire. The MFD cut a trench into the roof of the building to stop the flames from spreading to neighboring buildings and homes behind the stores, Clark indicated. 


“When I left, [officials] were already talking about getting a backhoe in there because of the extensive damage, especially the bar,” Clark said.


Thirteen fire departments responded to the call, including Williston Park, East Williston, New Hyde Park, Albertson, Manhasset-Lakeville, Garden City Park, Westbury, Carle Place, Port Washington, Roslyn and two companies from Great Neck. The Nassau County Fire Marshalls office deemed the fire not suspicious, but the investigation is ongoing.