In the early morning of July 3, a fire started in front of Bushwick Food Cooperative (BFC). The heat of the flames shattered the windows, destroyed the storefront, and set off the sprinkler system, which caused water damage throughout the entire store. The cause of the fire is still unknown. While the fire department’s investigation continues, the co-op seeks out monetary support from the community in an effort to reopen as soon as possible.
Fran Sanhueza, BFC’s general manager, received a message from a neighbor about the fire. Since it was said that the fire happened in front of the store, she wasn’t too concerned. Sanhueza asked one of her colleagues, Laurel Garnett, to go in a bit earlier to check it out. Garnett called her and said, “it’s a disaster.”
The night before, Sanhueza had left the community store while it was preparing for their Fourth of July sale. Now, she set foot in a dark, wet, smokey place. Standing in ankle-deep water, she noticed the bare ceiling beams—firemen had ripped off the tin plates to keep the fire from spreading. The sprinkler system had also destroyed their electronics, broken glass was in every corner.
“It was really devastating,” Sanhueza said.
The fire department is still investigating the fire and a cause hasn’t been determined yet. In a press statement, BFC says that they “think something happened to ignite our recycling bins outside the front of the store on Porter Avenue.” Around 4 a.m., the fire department received several messages about the fire and it took them about an hour to put it out.
“I think that crises like this really bring out people’s true colors,” Sanhueza said. “Despite the fact that everyone was overwhelmed, stressed, and borderline hysterical, I think everyone managed extremely well and rose to the occasion.”
The co-op community and neighborhood rallied after the fire. The neighbors at Jumi Cheese and Chabad of Bushwick offered to store some of their inventory, Bunna Cafe fed everyone who came out to help after a long day of cleaning up, and community members from all over responded to their request for help on social media.
BFC prides itself on selling products that meet an extensive list of requirements. When people walk into the store, they can be confident that all products are carefully vetted and curated. The companies they stock are often small, local, and adhere to labor and environmental standards in line with BFC’s.
“I shop at the co-op nearly every day, so this is a major loss in my daily routine,” said Morgan Vlad-McCabe, BFC owner, in a press statement. “Beyond the bountiful access to delicious products, I primarily miss the sense of connection to a larger community I felt by shopping at BFC.”
BFC is “not just a grocery store,” as Sanhueza and others have mentioned. Cooperatives are an alternative to mainstream shopping, where you work a few hours a month in exchange for a lowered wholesale mark-up on products. This investment of time creates a strong community feeling. At BFC, everyone knows each other’s names and faces.
“I looked forward to stopping by after work and catching up with all the store managers, whom I felt I had grown close with,” said Vlad-McCabe.
Since the BFC managers are pretty sure insurance won’t cover all their losses, they hope that their community will rally again and support their GoFundMe campaign or join the fundraising events they’re planning.
In the meantime, they’ve donated all their fresh produce to local soup kitchens and hold occasional “Fire Sales,” during which they sell their inventory with expiration dates.
Through it all, Sanhueza sees the silver lining: “We may have lost some of our material things, but we haven’t lost our sense of commitment and community. If anything, it has really brought people together.”
Cover image courtesy of BFC.
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