End of an era at Third and Market

Smoke was seen from Camden. The Suit Corner was the last of a group of Old City clothing businesses owned by the same family.
Smoke was seen from Camden. The Suit Corner was the last of a group of Old City clothing businesses owned by the same family.
Posted: April 11, 2014

Gary Ginsberg, owner of the Suit Corner, stood on the north side of Market Street on Wednesday morning, facing reporters. Behind him, his family business burned.

"All these years at Third and Market, going down to an end," he said as firefighters fought the two-alarm blaze. "I just can't believe this is happening. . . . It just went up in smoke."

Within a month, two Old City haberdasheries connected by blood, architectural motif, and outlandish retail style had been destroyed in spectacular fashion.

On March 13, the Shirt Corner collapsed in a hail of bricks and debris during demolition, sending pedestrians and motorists scurrying. Wednesday, its cater-corner cousin was gutted during a conflagration that made employees run from the burning building and caused a firefighter to suffer a minor injury.

Gone is a way of doing business from another era - classic to some tastes, garish to others. Both stores were marked by bright red, white, and blue signage, discounted clothing, and a corps of salesmen known to work the street, inviting shoppers in to check out the merchandise.

Ginsberg said the fire probably spelled the end of his family's presence at the intersection. His uncle Marvin Ginsberg had owned the Shirt Corner before selling it last year to developers.

In the 1960s, the corner was even more crowded with family retailing, with other Ginsbergs running stores called the Tie Corner and the Pants Corner. Without clothes and Ginsbergs, Old City at Third and Market may never feel the same.

"At one point they were a highlight of this part of the city," said Pat Hillman, who works in the Art Supplies shop across Market from the Suit Corner, made up of two buildings, a 19th-century, four-story edifice and a one-story structure to its east.

Deputy Fire Chief Eric Fleming said the department received the call at 9:15 a.m. and arrived in three minutes. Firefighters declared the blaze under control by 10:37, but hot spots continued to burn.

Fire officials were investigating the cause of the blaze. City inspectors issued a violation April 1 for the exterior condition of the four-story building at 302 Market, where windows were covered or boarded up.

Ginsberg said he and eight employees were in the building Wednesday when the fire started and all got out safely. One worker tried to put out the flames with an extinguisher, but couldn't.

"It was too strong," Ginsberg said.

Wayne Artez, 48, manager of High Street on Market, a restaurant three doors west of the blaze, said, "I saw a little fire in the first floor of the store at 9:15. Then glass started breaking and the flames started shooting upward."

Within three minutes, "it was a blazing inferno," Artez said. "All that polyester in there burning up."

Dressed in their white jackets, the culinary crew from Fork restaurant watched firefighters from the corner after their kitchen filled with smoke.

"In a kitchen there's a lot of smoke - you have to decipher what's good and bad," said Kate O'Neill, a pastry chef. "This didn't smell right."

Chefs, servers, hostesses, and the restaurant's single customer hightailed it down the street as "flames billowed out" from the Suit Corner, said another pastry chef, Dana Gigliotti.

Across the street, Ben Cross clutched his Pomeranian, Moon, and watched as firefighters climbed to the roof of his apartment building at 304 Market.

He wasn't optimistic about the state of his apartment - "it doesn't look good" - but Deputy Fire Chief Fleming said the building had suffered minimal damage.

The Suit Corner, on the other hand, was history, its roof gone, its windows blown out, hot spots still smoldering.

Kim Derstine, 46, owner of Fire & Ice restaurant, was generous in her praise of firefighters, whose quick actions saved her restaurant, seven doors down.

The first engine to respond came from the fire house nine blocks away at 10th and Cherry Streets. The response time falls within the 4-minute standard adopted by the National Fire Protection Association.

The fire house closest to the blaze - at Fourth and Arch Streets - has been closed since September after an electrical fire in an ambulance damaged the building.

If the station had been open, the ladder truck normally stationed there would have been two blocks from the fire scene.

The department used to house Engine 8 at the Arch Street station, but the city decommissioned the truck in 2009 as part of budget cuts. At the time of the closing, the Philadelphia firefighters union criticized the city for removing the historic district's lone fire engine.

Fleming, the deputy chief, told reporters that if the Fourth and Arch fire house had been open, perhaps firefighters might have been able to reach the scene "a minute sooner."

But he added that the extra time would not have made a difference, since the fire had already taken hold.



alubrano@phillynews.com

215-854-4969

Contributing to this article were Inquirer staff writers Mike Newall, Dylan Purcell, Claudia Vargas, and Joseph A. Gambardello.

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