BIRMINGHAM — Officials are investigating an early morning fire that destroyed a century-old building in Birmingham on Wednesday.
Country Craft Store, 15405 state Route 113, was a complete loss after a fire early Wednesday, according to the state Fire Marshal’s Office.
The call came in at about 12:05 a.m., and when firefighters arrived, flames were shooting from the windows and roof.
Florence Township Fire Chief Bill Rennie said fighting the fire was a challenge because crews had to haul in water to douse the blaze. The fire was fully extinguished around 4:30 a.m.
Rennie said 10 fire departments, including his, were needed to bring the fire under control.
Michael Duchesne, a public information officer for the state Fire Marshal’s Office, said heavy equipment was required to extinguish the blaze. The cause of the fire is under investigation, and a damage estimate was unavailable Wednesday night.
Monica Sartoski, who owns the store with her husband, Mitchell, said about three weeks ago they discovered furniture in the basement that indicated someone had been squatting there.
Sartoski said they installed a padlock on the door, and a short time later, someone painted the word “Boo” on the door, with an arrow pointing to the padlock. However, Sartoski said the padlock hadn’t been broken.
Detective Sgt. Nick Kotsopoulos of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office said deputies received a report from the owners about finding a couch and rug in the basement, but the squatter or squatters were never found. He said investigators are exploring whether electrical problems caused the fire or whether it was set. “A lot of it is unknown at this point,” Kotsopoulos said.
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The Sartoskis bought the approximately 2,600-square-foot store in 2002 for $150,000, Monica Sartoski said. She said the effect of the fire, which may have killed a 5-year-old cat that kept mice out of the store, hadn’t completely set in.
“I’m just in shock,” Monica Sartoski said. “I thought this building would stand forever, because it’s been here forever.”
The store was next to the unincorporated community’s post office and pizzeria, which burned down in 2009. Sartoski said the flames from that fire never touched her building. She said the fire was “devastating” for Birmingham given the previous fires.
Tom Young said he bought Red Cottage Antiques across the street from the store 6 ½ years ago. He said the atmosphere drew him to the area.
“It was a nice, peaceful area,” Young said. ““It’s a shame to see it going piece by piece.”
Young said when he moved to Birmingham, the community was a hub for business because of the post office, restaurant and antique shops. Young said Birmingham is a quiet, peaceful community to raise children, and it was unfortunate to see another draw get destroyed.
“It’s a shame,” Young said. “This was a nice little blooming town.”
Sartoski said it was unlikely that she would rebuild the antique shop, which was at least 100 years old.
“You could not replace that old building,” she said. “It had the atmosphere.”
Anyone with information on the fire is asked to call the fire marshal’s tipline at (800) 589-2728.