Firefighters battling the fire that engulfed the Sequoia Apartments building on Haste and Telegraph Friday. Photo: Pete Rosos

The city of Berkeley and the merchants of Telegraph Avenue are encouraging the community to shop on Berkeley’s most famous street this holiday season after a devastating fire left many people homeless on Friday and closed down one section of the commercial strip indefinitely.

“The message we want to put out is that most stores on Telegraph are open for business. We would like to encourage shopping on Telegraph in part because of this terrible blow,” said Dave Fogarty, Berkeley’s economic development project coordinator.

Several businesses have been directly impacted by the five-alarm fire at the historic building at 2441 Haste Street. Café Intermezzo and Raleigh’s Bar & Grill, both located in the building at street level and owned by the Ent family, the building’s landlords, have been shut down indefinitely, as has the nearby Thai Noodle II.

Amoeba Music lost $20,000 worth of business over the weekend because the store, which is across the street from the building, had to close, according to owner Marc Weinstein. Amoeba re-opened in a limited way Monday morning but customers were only able to enter using a side door.

Speaking about the fire, Weinstein said: “This is a hideous development to an already totally beat-up Telegraph. We are lucky nobody got hurt. This is another hit in the face for the avenue.”

The entire block of Telegraph between Haste and Channing is closed to pedestrians and cars as the burned building is structurally hazardous and still being monitored by the fire department for flare-ups. [Update, 4:48pm: the city has confirmed that all fires at the building are now extinguished and firefighters have left the scene. The building is red-tagged and the intersection will continue to be closed for at least two days.]

Al Geyer, owner of head shop Annapurna and head of Telegraph Avenue Merchants Association, said his store has reopened but business is slow since vehicle access is restricted.

“The problem is access. Once you are on the street it is bisected. It’s like two islands without a bridge. It’s hard to wander now. It disrupts the entire traffic flow.”

The Ents also own the space in the burned out building which has been slated to become Gabrielle’s, a pizza restaurant. They were denied a permit for a pizza oven by the city and the space has been vacant for around two years.

The block will be closed until the building is propped up or demolished, according to Michael Caplan, economic development manager for Berkeley. He said on Monday afternoon that the owners still did not have control of the building, but that they have already brought in contractors to look at it. City officials held a number of meetings Monday to discuss the fire and its implications.

Local merchants now face the prospect of two vacant lots facing each other on Telegraph at Haste. The Telegraph lot opposite the fire-scarred Sequoia Apartments building, which is owned by Ken Sarachan, has been vacant since the early 1990s, and is considered a blight on the neighborhood. In addition, the former Cody’s store on the opposite corner of Haste and Telegraph, also owned by Sarachan, has also been empty since the bookstore closed in 2006.

Weinstein believes the city should take some of the blame for the fire as well as the landlords of the building which, he said, was “totally neglected”. “Everybody on the street knows that maintenance on this building was a joke,” he said. “This is another story in a list of stories about the city not taking care of business.”

The cause of the fire has not yet been determined.

Saturday is “Small Business Saturday”, a small-business version of Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The city, the Chamber of Commerce and Buy Local Berkeley are pushing for shoppers to go to Telegraph to help out the area. “Everybody wants a piece of the holiday action but it would be nice if everyone would remember Telegraph this week,” said Caplan.

“Largest fire since 1991” leaves many locals homeless [11.19.11]
Devastating fire in apartment building, Haste at Telegraph [11.19.11] 

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...