Greg Korte had just taken his first bite of Father’s Day dinner at his daughter’s house when he got the text message.
His store, Ace Hardware on 56th Street, was on fire.
Greg rushed to the store, which he owns with his brothers, David, Steve and Bruce Korte.
Firefighters responded to the call. They had just been called back to the station from another fire and were turning around at University Lanes bowling alley right across the street from Ace, Greg explained. They saw smoke at the hardware store and came over.
“We were lucky,” Greg said.
The fire was electrical, said an insurance adjustor, who didn’t want to be named. He was at the store June 21 to assess the damages.
Using a flashlight, he pointed to an area near the front of the store where the fire likely started. As Greg and his brothers walked through the entrance, charred chunks crushed beneath their feet.
The fire started after the store closed on June 19. It must have been between 5 and 6 p.m., David estimated. A clock near the door was frozen at 6:30, the second hand stuck but still ticking between two seconds.
“Never would have thought a fire,” David said.
The glass door of a refrigerator near the cash register was covered in black patches, making the drinks inside nearly invisible. The plastic of the register was twisted. The smell of burned charcoal lingered.
The charcoal and firewood, which was stored near the front, ignited when the fire broke out.
“That just fueled the fire, ya know?” David said.
It had to be swept out of the front entrance. It was piled in one of the parking spaces.
The brothers have owned the store for 34 years, and it’s been at its current location for 25. It serves about 300 people a day and has 17 employees, Greg said.
A picture of the original store that was taped up near the cash register wasn’t damaged. Also unharmed was a pet fish named Eugene, Greg’s middle name.
Cars attempted to pull into the parking lot June 21, but they stopped short when they came to the line of orange cones across the entrance. Greg said the store will be closed for at least 60 days while they clean everything out, repair the building, and restock the shelves with new inventory.
“We’re anxious to get started and try it again,” he said.