Two fires knocked out four businesses along the Morris Park Avenue in 2018 and early this year. Now the proprietors of those establishments, after much trial and toil, are back to doing what they do best.
Avenue Cigar Lounge, which was destroyed in a fire that also damaged an adjacent hair salon and a second floor apartment at the corner of Lurting Avenue on December 23, 2018, reopened recently at 1129 Morris Park Avenue, between Williamsbridge Road and Tomlinson Avenue.
Dominick Principato stood proudly in his new walk-in, cedar-lined humidor recently and talked about the selection of fine imported cigars he offers from Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic.
He said the blaze at his previous location was a devastating set back. It took months to identify a new location and then build out the store, which he took over in March.
As bad as the pre-Christmas fire was at the end of the holiday season, he truly feels that it could have been worse.
“It was really bad timing, but no one got hurt,” said the cigar store proprietor. “Stores and buildings can get rebuilt, but lives don’t come back.”
At first he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to find a store in the same vicinity as his previous shop, that was founded in 2009. He purchased the business in 2016.
“It is a home away from home for these guys” said Principato of the shop, adding that many people in the area appreciated the original store because it was open late and provided “eyes on the street.”
The new location promises more of the same winning formula, and thankfully Principato said he is seeing many of the patrons from the previous store return.
“The word is getting around and a lot of the old faces are coming back, and hopefully I will get some new faces too,” he said.
Principato grew up in Morris Park and after some time living elsewhere, he moved back to the community.
He carries 200 different types of cigars including well-known brands like Romeo and Juliet, A.J. Fernandez, Padron, Nat Sherman, Oliva and Avo Cigars.
The shop features 21 chairs, three televisions and a group of cigar enthusiasts that discuss sports, politics and everything in between, he said.
At 1003 and 1005 Morris Park Avenue another fire that originated in a second floor apartment above stores temporarily knocked out Luciano’s Pizza for three weeks, said its co-owner Leopoldo Cervantes.
Once cleaning was complete and the insurance payout arrived, the pizzeria was back in business, he said.
“Thank God we got things going and are back in business,” said Cervantes, adding that local residents were asking him when the store was going to reopen. They were very supportive.
“This business has been in the community for over 40 years and we wanted to come back,” he said, adding that a jiu-jitsu establishment next door also closed for a short time before reopening.
The fire at 1003 Morris Park Avenue resulted in the arrest of Ariel Santiago, who was charged with arson, reckless endangerment and criminal mischief, according to a previous Bronx Times report.