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Dormont rallies for damaged grocery store

| Wednesday, June 25, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Chad Hunter, executive director of the Hollywood Theater in Dormont, stands outside of People's Food Mart on the same block of the theater. The grocery store was damaged by a fire after it was hit by lightening.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
People's Food Mart in Dormont was damaged by a fire after it was hit by lightening.

Vic Pabla said he is working to find a new location in Dormont for his family's People's Food Mart, which was heavily damaged inside by fire on June 18.

The store in the Potomac Avenue business district — the borough's only full-service grocery — caught fire due to a lightning strike.

“It was unexpected and unfortunate,” said Pabla, who runs the store for his father, Kulwant Pabla, the owner. “The plan right now is to relocate in Dormont, and hope to open for business in the next two or three months.”

Dormont Fire Chief Jeff Arnold said a lightning bolt hit the building and started a fire in the front, right corner.

“The fire then went inside the store itself and proceeded to take out part of the ceiling, before working its way down to the floor,” he said. “There's a lot of smoke and water damage; everything food-wise is ruined, and everything needs to be discarded.

The fire chief said “the store was closed at that time, so luckily no one was inside. The store is boarded up, and while the outside is damaged, most damage is on the inside, Arnold said.

People's Food Mart opened in Dormont in 2011 in a space occupied previously by other food stores. The Spar Grocery was there more than 20 years ago, and later it was known as Dormont Fresh Market. The store was convenient for residents in nearby homes and a senior citizens' high-rise, and it offered delivery service.

Vic Pabla said the original People's store, called People's Grocery, opened 27 years ago on Penn Avenue in Garfield and remains open.

“My dad opened that store, and I was a 10- or 11-year-old kid helping to run the family business,” Pabla said. “When we heard the property in Dormont was closing, we jumped at the chance to open another store at that location.”

Dormont Mayor Phil Ross said this was the second lightning strike at a Potomac Avenue site in five years. The former Dormont Presbyterian Church, at Potomac and Espy avenues, was hit five years ago, he said, and while it didn't catch fire, the church steeple was damaged.

Jaime Wilson-Spik, owner of Alter Ego Body Art Studio, two doors from the food store, said she heard the lightning strike and saw smoke and fire coming from Potomac Avenue.

“I live just right around the corner,” she said. “The noise was extraordinarily loud and very scary.”

She called the damage to the store “terrible. People's provided such an idealistic service for the community. Personally, we all go there several times throughout the work day to get drinks and snacks, so for us, it being closed has been a big change in our routine.”

The Hollywood Theater on Potomac Avenue plans a benefit screening of “National Lampoon's Vacation,” at 7:30 p.m. on July 30, with all box office proceeds going to help People's Food Mart reopen.

Chad Hunter, executive director of Friends of the Hollywood Theater, said he heard about the fire soon after it happened.

“People's is on our block, part of our community,” he said. “We often purchase things from there, and we would like to see them stick around and flourish.”

Hunter said they chose the classic Chevy Chase comedy for the screening because they wanted the audience to see a “light-hearted movie in midst of a tragedy.”

Those familiar with the movie know that Chase's character, Clark W. Griswold, overcomes numerous adversities to achieve what he wants in the end: making his family happy with a visit to Wally World.

Pabla hopes to make his family and the community happy by reopening People's Food as soon as possible.

Chasity Capasso is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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