A smoky early morning fire at St. John’s Wharfside Village shopping center left businesses closed on Tuesday and caused major damage to the Pusser's Company Store and Restaurant.
Fire companies from Cruz Bay and Coral Bay responded to a 1 a.m. alarm from the Wharfside Village Shopping Center. Deputy Fire Chief Brian Chapman said it took his officers about an hour to contain smoke and flames at the offices of Pusser’s Restaurant and at the adjoining Pusser’s Company Store.
Betsy Woodward, manager of the Pusser's Closeout outlet on St. Thomas, said the St. John store was completely destroyed, but the restaurant can be salvaged and can "possibly open in a couple weeks."
Woodward said the company would try to reposition the Wharfside store's employees in other local Pusser's retail outlets.
Chapman praised his officers for their swift response, saying they were able to confine the blaze to a single room within an hour of their initial response.
"The guys did a great job," he said. "They contained it to the one room with fire damage and then the two adjoining rooms." However, he added, "There was a lot of smoke and water damage."
Chapman said the Low Key Watersports shop one floor below the Pusser’s facilities sustained some water damage. However, Low Key owner Ann Marie Estes told St. John Source Tuesday afternoon that her store also suffered substantial smoke damage.
"We took a big hit," Estes said. "But we just got power back, and we're open for business and will be running dives as usual."
Fire Marshall Glen Francis spent most of Tuesday morning documenting the damage and trying to determine the cause of the fire. Other stores at Wharfside were left without electrical power for a portion of the Tuesday business day while investigators probed the center’s electrical system.
Craig Dengler, owner of Cruz Bay Photo, said he stayed open until 4 p.m. taking in work and waiting to see what would happen. "I finally gave up at four o'clock," he said. "I'll be open tomorrow for sure."
Chapman said damage estimates are expected to be heavy but will ultimately be determined by the fire marshal.
The last major fire at Wharfside Village, in July of 1992, caused extensive damage to a Wendy’s restaurant that had been located on the first floor of the center. The fast food outlet subsequently closed permanently.


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