Years of dreams and hard work went up in smoke for the owners and employees after an accidental fire destroyed several Jackson Heights businesses the day before Valentine’s Day.
Nevertheless, with the help of friends and customers by their sides, many owners have already taken the first steps towards restoring their businesses.
Maria Laura Ines Solano, co-owner of Lalita’s gift shop, feels the urge to continue and finish what she started.
“I have a moral obligation to my clients,” she said. “This week I have been taking calls and working on baby shower decorations and sales paid before the fire took place.”
Solano came to the United Sates in 1994 with the hope of making money to help her three sons, who she left in Peru. The blaze that started in a nearby furniture store on Saturday, February 13, has forced her to start over again.
“I arrived in Florida [in the 1980s] and began working very hard; I was a babysitter for three years and moved on to taking care of an elderly woman,” said Solano. “After her death I was determined to continue moving on. I began working as a house keeper, doing alterations for clothing and then party decorations.”
In 2007, Solano’s younger sister persuaded her to open their own business in the city. After finding the location at 84-05 37th Avenue, an enthusiastic Solano moved from Florida to New York and became the third generation of women in her family to open a business. She began selling toddler clothing and imported items her sister sent from Peru.
Now that her store has burned down, she fights off tears of confusion as she sees herself and her employees left with nothing.
“I am very thankful to the people who have called me and kept me in their prayers,” she said, thanking in particular Councilmember Daniel Dromm, who put her in touch with someone at the NYC Department of Small Business Services. “They have kept me going and filled me with warm feelings that have me looking ahead to what is to come.”
The fire, which took all of the material items Solano kept for her business, has only motivated her to sell more and become more prosperous. She continues to hold on to her entrepreneurial spirit and hopes to find an affordable new space to rent and continue on with her gift shop, selling children’s clothing, floral decorations and party supplies.
“I am safe and the fire did not harm any of my employees or neighbors,” Solano said. “I am still healthy and I will continue on fighting to bring back my own shop once again.”