Even those businesses leftBy Peter Wagner
unscathed are struggling in
the aftermath of the
Interstate Building fire
The fire that swept the Interstate Building's top floors did no visible damage to Sluggo's Snack Shop down below, nor did it mar the Cafe Sistina next door.
But these and scores of other businesses in the 16-story building on King Street are hurting in the wake of the April 1 fire.
"I don't know how we're going to pay the rent this month," said Lilly Chou, who works at Sluggo's.
The little shop, which relies on customers in the building -- a condominium of 130 professional offices -- has seen a 60 percent drop in business since the fire.
"One of my good customers was a doctor on the 15th floor and he moved out because he can't do business here anymore," said Chou. "The elevators only go up to the fourth floor."
At Sistina, which has suffered a 30 percent drop since the fire, noontime waiters yesterday stood by in a nearly empty room.
"I'm a victim too, in a different way," said Sergio Mitrotti, owner of the trendy Italian restaurant. "My business has taken a plunge."
Virtually untouched by the fire and attendant water damage, Sistina is now struggling to convince customers that it is open for business.
"I believe people think because the building shut down we're out of business," Mitrotti said. "That's not the case."
The fire, which has triggered a call for tax incentives to retrofit older buildings with sprinkler systems, damaged the building's top three floors, fire officials say. Water damage seeped down as far as the ground floor to damage ceilings, floors and furnishings.
The Fire Department has tentatively estimated damage at $1 million to the building and "several million" to its contents. But the figure is expected to be revised upwards when insurance claims are filed, factoring in lost business revenues.
Workmen yesterday were laboring over the elevators, one of them gutted by the fire, the others with motor or cable damage. Building managers hope to have one elevator in service by next Friday but won't venture to guess how long it will take to fix the others.
Outside, huge blowers were pumping dry air into the building, still damp from the heavy water damage to ceilings, walls, floors, desks and computers.
While electricity has been restored, air conditioning will remain out of service until late next week, building managers predict.
People trying to get to upper floors yesterday rode garage elevators to the fourth floor, then trudged up countless flights of steps. Some struggled grimly, others looked for comic relief.
Michael Alves, a deliveryman for Office Depot, arrived with two heavy boxes for James Sterrett, CPA, on the eighth floor.
"It's a killer," he said, bracing himself for four flights of stairs.
Karen Speltz, a bookkeeper in Sterrett's office, sat next to a droning fan in the humid office.
"We're just waiting for the air conditioning," said Speltz. "You do what you have to do."
Those suffering the most are the building's many doctor offices, physical therapy services and other businesses with heavy walk-in traffic.
Like some others, Derek Ishihara of Island Physical Therapy is now sharing space with colleagues outside the building.
"I'm depending on the kindness of friends," said Ishihara, who moved out of his badly damaged 14th floor office to squeeze his customers in at Pacific Physical Therapy in Kakaako.
Island Therapy, under 2 inches of water after the fire, is now a shambles of exercise equipment and damaged furnishings.
"Until the elevators are fixed, I can't get my equipment fixed, so it's sitting up there rusting now," he said.
But insurance will cover most losses, he said, including lost business revenues. And Ishihara hopes to move back in in several months.
Dr. David Abbott, a psychiatrist on the seventh floor, was undaunted by the disruption.
"I've been lucky," said Abbott, trying to stay cool in a red tank-top and loose pants as a breeze blew in an open window. "Most of my patients are young and in good shape physically, so climbing stairs has not been a problem."
Abbott counsels drug abusers and other patients referred by the state.
Luckier still is Bryan Luke, a chiropractor whose fourth floor office is within reach of garage elevators. But things aren't as rosy as they seem.
"It's an inconvenience, big time," Luke said. "I used to send my patients upstairs for X-rays. Now I have to send them to three different places outside the building."
Taking things in stride yesterday was Kevin Son Duong, a hard-working maintenance worker at the Interstate Building.
Looking flushed in the lobby after an errand upstairs, he managed a wan smile.
"I just took a light bulb up to the lady's room on the 15th floor," he said.
What: Interstate Building
Where: 1314 S. King St.
Units: 130 commercial condominiums
Damage: $1 million to building; "several million" to contents (preliminary estimate)
Smoke and fire: Top three floors
Water: Ground through 14th floors