Sunday Apr 02, 2023

‘You pick up and move on’: Greenwich business owners finding their footing after arson fire – The Post Star


GREENWICH — A month after the fire that destroyed the landmark Wilmarth Building, the building’s former occupants and the community are adjusting to the new reality.

“I’m doing,” said real estate broker Penny Spiezio. Her business, PennyDot Realty, lost its Greenwich office in the blaze. “Trying to find another location in Greenwich has been more difficult than I expected.”

A fast-moving blaze broke out at the building at 128 Main St. just after noon on Feb. 6. Within hours, the 1892 landmark was rubble, displacing seven residents, four businesses, damaging an antiques business next door, and disrupting power and telecommunications in the village. John M. Fox, who had been visiting one of the residents, was arrested and charged with setting the blaze. He is in custody without bail at the Washington County Jail.

A view of the remains of the Wilmarth Building in Greenwich in the days after the early February arson fire that destroyed it.

PennyDot’s main office is in Cambridge, and Spiezio said the bulk of the business’s records were there. However, she had just opened some new files in the Greenwich area and that information hadn’t yet been transferred.

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The greater loss was that the Greenwich office was displaying a local artist’s watercolors of the doors of Greenwich, Spiezio said. The paintings were on loan.

“It’s stuff like that that you just can’t replace,” Spiezio said. “But everyone got out. That’s the important thing.”

Spiezio said she’s been offered space elsewhere in the village, but none of it has the window visibility the business needs. The Wilmarth Building was in the heart of downtown, across the street from a busy bank and right next to the main intersection.

“I’m still on the hunt,” Spiezio said.

This isn’t the first time Spiezio has been burned out. Her childhood home burned on Valentine’s Day in 1977 or 1978, she said, almost 45 years to the day of the Wilmarth fire.

“It’s ironic,” Spiezio said, “but you pick up and move on.”

Photo history lost

Photographer Clifford Oliver, whose photography studio was on the second floor, had just been recognized by the town of Greenwich for his accomplishments as a local historian and volunteer. A Greenwich resident for 31 years, he is well-known locally for his commercial and fine art photography, as well as his research into local African American history and portrayal of African American figures like Solomon Northup.

Oliver said he lost 50 years of work, camera equipment, a vintage camera collection and a vintage hat collection. He described being at the scene of the fire and realizing that some of the ashes blowing along the street were his photographs.

Oliver had been digitizing family photos for a client in Saratoga Springs.

“I lost his ‘50s and ‘60s photos,” Oliver said. “It was the hardest phone call I ever had …….


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