Picking up the Pieces: Businesses Recover After Flames are Put Out

Courtesy of Wen-Yi Ko-StarkAn area of North Ravenswood Avenue went up in smoke as a fire ravaged an auto body shop on Dec. 22.

On the morning of Dec. 22, Nick Kosiek — a State Farm insurance agent in Rogers Park — had the day off work and decided to sleep in.

Kosiek had kept his phone off all night and turned it on shortly after he woke up around 9:30 a.m., when a cascade of voicemails and text messages appeared on the screen. That’s when Kosiek said he discovered his locally owned State Farm office and another business — located on the 7000 block of North Clark Street — were in flames.

The fire began early in the morning in the basement of the building, and ripped through Kosiek’s office and Dulceria Mexicana, a Mexican candy store next door, according to an announcement by 49th Ward Alderman Joe Moore on the 49th Ward’s website.

El Famous Burrito — a Mexican restaurant south of Kosiek’s office and Dulceria Mexicana — escaped fire damage but had to close temporarily for inspection to ensure the establishment was structurally safe, Moore’s announcement said. The restaurant has since reopened.

“I was lucky enough to not be there,” Kosiek said. “I’m typically open on Saturdays but that day we were closed because of the holidays, just gearing up for the long weekend. It ended up that the fire started early in the morning.”

Kosiek said no one was in the State Farm office, Dulceria Mexicana or El Famous Burrito.

“It’s one of those things that happens and you have to adapt accordingly, and it just so happened that it coincided with the holiday season,” Kosiek said. “I actually felt that it being in the holiday season allowed a window for me to bounce back and gave me more time.”

The cause of the fire is still being investigated, according to Moore’s announcement.

Moore was at the scene of the fire and offered assistance to business owners on behalf of his office and the city, the announcement said.

The Chicago Fire Department couldn’t be reached by The Phoenix by the time of publication.

Both Dulceria Mexicana and Kosiek’s office are considered a total loss, meaning the damage is irreparable, Kosiek said.

Ron Schoeneman, president of A. Schoeneman & Co. Inc. — the insurance company representing the building — said the building owners plan on constructing something new on the property in the future.

“These things happen,” Kosiek said. “This is what we have insurance for and why I’m in the business of insurance … this is why I do what I do, to make sure people are properly protected, and when people are properly protected they have the confidence to know ‘this is unfortunate, but I’m going to be okay.’”

It’s unclear if Dulceria Mexicana had insurance, or what the owner’s plans are for handling the damage. The owners of Dulceria Mexicana couldn’t be reached for comment by the time of publication.

The same day as the fire on Clark, a couple blocks southwest at 6423 N. Ravenswood Ave., a fire broke out at Devon Auto Repair & Body Shop.

Wen-Yi Ko-Stark, a preschool teacher in Rogers Park who lives just north of the Devon Auto Repair & Body Shop, said she and her husband were driving home around 1:30 p.m. when they saw a handful of fire trucks and streets blocked off near the scene of the fire.

Ko-Stark said she saw so much smoke she could hardly see the auto body shop.

The fire started shortly after noon, and no one was in the building, Moore’s announcement said. However, a firefighter was injured while trying to extinguish the fire and was taken to Presence St. Francis in Evanston, and they are now stable, according to the announcement.

Several homes and businesses near the auto body shop sustained water damage, but weren’t damaged by the fire, Moore’s announcement said.

Chicago Industrial Arts & Design Center shared a wall with the auto body shop and had to close for two weeks for an inspection to ensure the structure was safe, according to Matt Runfola, the founder of the establishment. He also said its utilities — including its electricity and water — were cut off as a result of the fire.

Ko-Stark said in the days following the fire, crews towed vehicles which were burned in the fire and eventually demolished the structure.

“Everything is just flat now,” Ko-Stark said. “The whole auto repair place is just gone.”

Chuck Erickson, the landlord for the property, said the auto body shop had insurance, but it’s unclear what the owner’s plans will be for the future. 

“I’m very appreciative of the wonderful job the Chicago Fire Department did by saving three other buildings,” Erikson said.

Devon Auto Repair & Body Shop declined The Phoenix’s request for comment.

Moore didn’t respond to The Phoenix’s request for further comment.

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