Town encourages residents to support local merchants; fire razed-buildings demolished
With rubble and debris now cleared from the site of the Easter weekend fire on Brock Street, following the demolition of two heavily damaged buildings, it’s hard to miss the gaping hole in Whitby’s historic downtown.
The buildings at 121 and 119 Brock St. S. were torn down early last week, allowing a small stretch of the road to reopen to vehicle traffic on Friday, May 8 after being closed for more than a month. Drivers and pedestrians weaving their way through the area on Mother’s Day Sunday morning couldn’t help but stop and glance up at the void left behind.
“It’s just sad because it’s a historic building and you want to try to keep these, so it’s too bad that it happened but hopefully they’ll be able to rebuild something comparable,” said Juliet Szabo, a Whitby resident out for a stroll with her six-year-old daughter, Avaya.
The April 3 fire broke out at about 2 a.m. in the basement of Jimmy O’Toole’s Pub at 121 Brock St. S. The blaze spread to two adjacent buildings at 119 Brock St. S., which was home to the Pita Pit, and 123 Brock St. S., which houses Rawlicious. Each of the businesses had apartments located above them and 23 people were displaced. The cause of the blaze has been ruled as undetermined by the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office. Damage is estimated at more than $1 million.
Brock Street South, between Dundas and Colborne streets, was blocked to traffic shortly afterward to allow the Town and property owners to address safety issues.
“This road closing messed up a lot of traffic,” said Sinclair Bowen, who stopped to survey the damage on the way to FreshCo with his 12-year-old daughter, Shantay.
“(Drivers) were sent in different directions and persons who commute by bus, it was messing them up too because they didn’t know where to catch the bus that comes down here.”
Ourania Nicolaou, a Whitby resident whose son owns The Vault Gastropub at 102 Brock St. S. said she’s happy to see the road reopened and hopefully return to business as usual.
“The parking was difficult and they lost a lot of business,” she said. “If cars don’t go through, they don’t see the businesses are down here and it’s too bad. They just opened the business in December and this happened so it’s tough.”
James Greb, who lives nearby at the corner of Brock and Colborne streets, said he hopes whatever replaces the demolished buildings matches the historic look of the area and “doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb.
“They could always refinish the sides and maybe put some sort of (pathway) there or some trees and maybe a little sitting area.”
While some of the downtown businesses are normally closed on Sundays, Sam’s Kitchen — a Chinese food restaurant at 114 Brock St. — was open. Owner Sam Law, who has a clear view of the empty space where the buildings once stood from his storefront window directly across the road, said he wants the Town to provide more incentives to bring people downtown because business owners are struggling.
“Even with the reopening of the road, business is still (slow,)” he said. “Lots of people still think that downtown Whitby is closed.”
Barrier fencing will remain around the site where the two buildings stood and the Town has set up alterative walkways for pedestrians. Free three-hour parking is currently available on downtown Whitby streets — except during rush hours on Dundas Street West and Mary Street West — and will continue until May 31.