Businesses back from fires


Businesses may soon return to the South Street and Washington Street buildings ravaged by suspicious fires earlier this year. Meanwhile, the firebombed El Oriental de Cuba restaurant in Hyde Square reopened this week.

“It will look like a brand new building,” said Nick Skourtis, owner of 138-142 South St., which was hit by an arson fire in March. He was on the site last week, starting to select contractors for the job.

“They’re all coming back,” said William Kilroy of the businesses in his building at Washington and Tower streets. That building was heavily damaged by an August blaze that is still under investigation. On the scene last week, Kilroy told the Gazette he’s beginning the process of gutting and renovating the damaged storefronts.

At the South Street site, only three of the original five affected businesses are returning, Skourtis said. Those coming back are Maria’s Hair Fashion, Felix Pizzeria and Botanica San Miguel. ASAP Lock and Key and JP Urban Apparel are not returning.

However, the renovated building will also include a new clothing store and another business yet to be announced, Skourtis said.

At the time of the arson, the building had seven storefronts, two of them vacant. The renovated building will have five storefronts, Skourtis said. It also will no longer have security grates, a design element the city does not favor. The arsonist pried open a security grate on Maria’s Hair Fashion to set the fire.

Skourtis praised the city’s Department of Neighborhood Development and the Mayor’s Office for their help and advice. He said he hopes to have the renovations complete within a couple of months.

Skourtis said he’s frustrated that the arsonist hasn’t been caught, but praised the Boston Fire Department (BFD) for continuing to investigate, including repeated visits to the site. But, he said, he wonders if the arsonists are “reading the paper and laughing at us.”

A BFD spokesperson said the cause of the Washington Street
fire, which apparently started in Forest Hills Dental, is still under investigation. Early reports suggested an accidental cause, and the BFD chose not to bring accelerant-sniffing dogs to the site, but has also not discounted the possibility of arson.

The BFD is still offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information about anyone responsible for JP business arsons, also including the 2005 firebombing of El Oriental de Cuba and the apparent firebombing in August of Century 21 Pondside Realty. El Oriental is in the process of reopening, and Century 21 has relocated to another address while awaiting a reconstruction.

There was some confusion last month when the BFD put up new signs offering a reward of only $5,000. BFD spokesperson Steve MacDonald said the department offers a standard reward of $5,000 for any arson fire, but a special reward of $10,000 in the JP cases. He said the BFD wanted to put up more reward signs, but ran out of the special JP ones, so they used the standard $5,000 signs instead. City Councilor John Tobin is offering an additional $1,000 reward.

Local E-13 Police Capt. Kelley McCormick said he can not comment on specific details but that all the fires are still under investigation and receiving special police attention. Police officials previously said undercover detectives are patrolling and inspecting the business districts.

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