Firefighters had to brave thick smoke and intense heat in trying to contain the blaze at the Community Bake Shop.Shelby fisk / the times leader
Firefighters move in to battle the flames that began pouring from the building shortly after 1 a.m. Wednesday.Bill boock / for the times leader
Officials survey the scene from a nearby rooftop as beams are put in place to reinforce adjacent structures to the fire-gutted building while plans are made to tear down the structure.shelby fisk / the times leader
Scranton firefighters riding high in a ladder truck spray water on the building at 321 Lackawanna Ave. after a fire broke out at the structure on Wednesday that housed Community Bake Shop and Cafe, a longtime business in the downtown.Shelby fisk / the times leader
Officials survey the damage to the Community Bake Shop and Cafe on Lackawanna Avenue, Scranton.Shelby fisk / the times leader
Demolition equipment is positioned in front of what remains of the four-story building that housed Community Bake Shop and Cafe on Lackawanna Avenue in Scranton. Most of the interior had collapsed which made the building a serious safety concern and it was scheduled for demolition.shelby fisk / the times leader
SCRANTON – Extinguishing a blaze that destroyed a landmark business in downtown Scranton was only half the battle for officials who next had to carefully strategize to remove the structure that threatened people’s safety as well as nearby businesses.
On Wednesday, after the fire which broke out shortly after 1 a.m. was finally contained, crews worked to devise a plan to demolish the building that had housed the Community Bake Shop and Cafe at 321 Lackawanna Ave. The four-story structure was a total loss and was deemed “unstable” and a safety hazard by officials at the scene. There were no injuries, said Jeff White, assistant fire chief for the Scranton Fire Department.
The original plan was to tear down the structure on Wednesday afternoon, but those plans were delayed a few days as new concerns arose about possible damage to other commercial properties that were connected to the fire-ravaged building by walls including Curry Donuts, Best Foot Forward, Diversified Information Technologies Inc. and the Marquee Theater as well as an elevated walkway that crossed over Lackawanna Avenue and connected to the Mall at Steamtown.
White said because of these safety concerns, more time was needed to determine the best possible way to demolish the building.
Adele Pollack, Community Bake Shop owner, said the family business has had a presence in the city for 62 years.
Records obtained from the Lackawanna County assessor’s office confirmed that the Pollack family acquired the commercially zoned property across the street from the mall that went up in smoke, on November 29, 1974. The business had recently undergone a renovation and added a café.
Adelle’s son, Jay Pollack, was at the scene of the fire on Thursday. He and others stood behind police lines surveying the damage.
“It was such a cool building. It has so much character to it…such a great building,” he said, noting his memories of the building date to when he was 10.
He noted that he had been operating a print shop called Personal Imprints in the basement of the building and he also delivered wedding cakes for the bakery.
As crews assessed the damage, Jay said that he was relieved that no one was in the building at the time of the fire.
“Things can be replaced. People can’t,” Jay said.
Ray Hayes, director of public safety, said the cause and the origin of the fire have not yet determined. Fire officials’ efforts were hampered by the instability of the structure.
Thursday afternoon crews were securing steal beams between the neighboring building that houses Curry Donuts and Best Foot Forward. Citizens Bank will also be secured before demolition, by Shea Demolition, begins.
“The whole plan with demolition is take the building in on itself,” Mark Seitzinger, director of licensing inspections and permits and building code official. “It’s not your typical demolition not something that I’ve come across.”
Seitzinger cited the vicinity of the building, the height of the building and the extent of fire damage as obstacles that crews have faced in controlling the fire and deciding how to knock it down. “Something like this we don’t want to rush into we want to take our time make sure it’s done right,” he said.
Meanwhile, the bakery was offered a new temporary base of operations.
James Walsh, general manager and vice president of property management for the mall, said on Thursday that space formerly occupied by The Ground Round restaurant which closed earlier this month was offered as temporary space for the bakery “free of charge” and to help the family get “through the holidays.” He said that the business could move in as soon as they wanted.
“In this (economic) climate people are struggling,” Walsh said. He added that he thinks that bakery business will be struggling even more after the recent fire and he said the mall doesn’t want to see that.
“We want to pay it forward,” Walsh said. “We offered them the opportunity to go in the space…they measured (refrigerators and building) space. Walsh said as a neighbor business, “it was the right thing to do.”
Walsh said the mall will await a call from the Pollack family.
It was not known if the Pollack family had accepted the offer.
The fire and thick smoke that blanketed the downtown forced many businesses to close, including stores in the mall, and rerouted the county bus system’s stop in the vicinity.
Walsh called the interruption in business a “speed bump” for the mall.
Victoria’s Secret, American Eagle Outfitters and Rave stores in the mall sustained smoke and water damage, Walsh said. The space formerly occupied by Steve & Barry’s discount apparel store had fire and mechanical damage, Walsh added.
Walsh said that Travelers Insurance insures both the bakery building and the mall.
“It’s too early, because they can’t go into the structure period,” Hayes said. “We’re not going to compromise anyone.”