As residents, visitors and others from around the world who love Sag Harbor come to grips with the devastating fire that destroyed buildings and tore through the iconic Sag Harbor Cinema and neighboring buildings, we have heard similar sentiments come up time and time again. “At least nobody was hurt,” many have said. “It could have been a lot worse,” most agreed. And something that is clearly indicative of the perseverance Sag Harbor has shown through a long history of fires in the village, “We will rebuild.”
It has been difficult to comprehend what happened on Main Street last week. Three buildings destroyed, others left with significant damage, several left homeless and a black hole on Main Street that should be filled instead with holiday cheer. Friday, December 16, 2016 will live in our memory as a day that changed the face of Sag Harbor, at least temporarily, and altered the landscape of our bucolic village.
An inordinate number of fires have ravaged Sag Harbor over the years, including the Easter Sunday blaze in 1994 that destroyed the Emporium Hardware store and left 14 residents homeless. Owners of the Emporium vowed then to rebuild, and one year later, they opened their doors for business once again. Referencing the great fire of 1845, which erupted at the foot of Main Street and quickly spread through homes and businesses, village historian Dorothy Ingersoll Zaykowski wrote in “Sag Harbor: The Story of an American Beauty” that Sag Harbor “phoenix-like, rises again from the ashes.”
What became clear on Friday, outside of the realization that this was no small fire that would easily be dealt with, was that this is a community of volunteers, business owners and residents who are prepared to lift Main Street from the ashes once again. The leadership in the fire department — starting at the top with Chief Thomas Gardella — was outstanding, and for civilians who spent most of the day watching their every move, bravery and quick wits not only saved much of our downtown, but also left us in awe. Every single one of the roughly 150 firefighters on the ground and in buckets spraying icy water over Main Street deserves our eternal gratitude, as do our ambulance corps volunteers, the police department led by Chief Austin McGuire and staff from the village public works department, many of who pulled double duty on Friday.
Local business owners also mobilized — Provisions began carting breakfast foods and large carafes of hot coffee down to the Municipal Building, where firefighters covered in ice were able to nourish themselves while they thawed out, before returning to duty. They were followed quickly by virtually every eatery in town — 7-Eleven, Schaivoni’s, The Golden Pear, Baron’s Cove, and more with Conca D’oro delivering hot pizzas shortly after 9 a.m. Residents also joined in the support effort — casserole dishes were brought to the Brick Kiln Road firehouse by the dozens. Local hotels opened their doors for warmth and sustenance; Bay Street Theater served as another warming station. When the department needed warm socks, they were told to clear out the stock of the Variety Store if need be by the store’s owner, Lisa Field. Residents also brought hand warmers, hats, gloves and socks to the Municipal Building and firehouse — all small, but important, efforts in a moment when those on the sidelines felt helpless during dire moments of need.
Once the fire was extinguished, we hugged each other, some times in tears, but always with a look of understanding that we are all in this together when it comes to Sag Harbor, that we will work together to support our volunteers and business owners, and that Main Street will once again be rebuilt, because in an age of fraying communities and division, we are prepared to stand together when it matters most.