Gulfport community helps owners of fire-damaged businesses

- Four locally-owned Gulfport businesses were working to reopen their doors after a fire swept through their shopping plaza on April 21.

"Walking into our store, it just broke my heart. I cried from the moment I saw the smoke on the roof to the moment I went home. I cried for days, I mean, this is my livelihood," said Robin Althaus, owner of Fazio's Pizza off 58th Street South.

Althaus said she heard a popping noise in the back of the pizza parlor and, soon after, saw smoke. She ran door-to-door, alerting workers and customers in the neighboring flower shop, laundromat and convenience store to get outside.

"My adrenaline was pumping. I remember everybody was in shock," said Althaus.

Firefighters quickly responded to the fire at the Sunrise Laundromat next door. Once the fire was out, the damage was evident. The laundromat was completely charred inside. Three neighboring businesses were left with smoke and water damage.

Only one, Gulfport Florist, was able to reopen two days after the fire.

"My business has Mother's Day next week, so I'm really busy trying to get ready for that. I'm just glad that I can carry on with my business," said owner Anette Bartha.

As they wait to learn if the roof of the businesses will need to be replaced, which could delay the three remaining shops from reopening by months, Gulfport community members are opening their wallets to help.

Thursday, May 4, local restaurants and retailers plan to donate a portion of the day's sales to a fire disaster fund. A fundraiser and raffle is also planned for May 18 at neighboring church, Most Holy Name of Jesus.

Althaus said someone even offered to pay the rent for the pizza parlor this month. She said the community support is overwhelming.

"This is what Gulfport is. We stand strong for our fellow neighbors, and you don't really see it, until it's happening to you," she explained.

More info on the upcoming fundraising events can be found at the links below:

Shop & Dine: https://www.facebook.com/events/1685302731732598/

Most Holy Name of Jesus event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1547367342233827/

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