BERWYN – Barry Kerstein stood outside his still-smoking, iconic bicycle shop just hours after a fire consumed the legacy business and his livelihood.
The shop was first opened by his father, the late Art Kerstein, in 1946. All that was left following the fire that would indicate the gutted, smoking building was once a business was part of the awning outside that once read Art’s Bicycle Shop. It now showed a bicycle and just one word, his father’s name, Art.
“That’s you’re Dad talking,” said Kerstein’s wife, Therese.
Out of the ashes of what was once a beloved community bicycle shop at 6212 W. Cermak Road, another will rise, like a phoenix, and that’s a promise, Kerstein said.
“We want to reopen there,” Kerstein said. “But the insurance company said it could take 12 to 15 months. Until then, I would say I would probably be dealing with the loose ends for the next couple months.”
The fire that started about 4 a.m. Jan. 16 burned with such intensity that little survived. Kerstein said 200 bicycles were transformed into scorched, twisted masses of tube steel. There were also several bicycles that were in for repairs that are now utterly irreparable.
There was an apartment on the top floor of the two-story building that was also destroyed. The tenants, Angel and Nieves Orta, escaped harm. A benefit is being held to get the couple back on their feet.
“The reality of looking up at the sky without a ceiling blocking the view was something I couldn’t imagine,” Kerstein said. “To see that, thank God there weren’t any fatalities.”
As Kerstein surveyed the damage, a man by the name of James Young walked up, wheeling a bicycle in hand, and presented it to Kerstein.
“It was about 7 a.m.,” Kerstein said. “[Young] said he bought it at a toy store, a he wanted it to be the first bike I sell when I reopen.”
The gesture indicated something about the community, Kerstein said. People care.
“We appreciate all the years people patronized us and we intend to be back even stronger,” Kerstein said.
Family loses two business, but will hold benefit for tenants of building
Angel and Nieves Orta lost their home to the same fire that claimed Art's Bicycle Shop, 6212 Cermak Road, Jan. 16. The Orta's also lost their pet dog, Princess, in the blaze that consumed their second floor apartment.
With that in mind, the owners of two businesses damaged by the fire are thinking not of themselves, but of their neighbors.
At Old Fashioned Candies, 6210 W. Cermak Road, located next door to Art's, fire and smoke forced the owners to close their doors until they can get the business cleaned up and reopened, too.
Barry Kerstein's wife, Therese, is a sister to Old Fashioned Candies owners Lynn White, Donna Greenwald, Sandra Figatner and Karyn Downey, who carry on the tradition as owners of the store started by their parents. Even with all that 's recently happened to the extended family, White announced a fundraiser will be held Feb. 1 for the second-floor victims of the fire.
The candlelight bowl event will be held at 10 p.m. at AMF Forest Lanes, 7700 W. 47th St., Lyons. The cost is $50 per couple, or $25 for singles.
Anyone wishing to contribute prizes, make a donation or purchase tickets should contact Lynn White at 708-473-0499.
The Orta's have been tenants for about 15 years, and they are like family, White said.
"We know how they feel," White said. "We want to show them people do care."
At this point it s unclear exactly when Old Fashioned Candies will be able to reopen, White said, but they plan to.
"But we do want to assure people we will be back, with no doubt," White said.