South End Business Back in Action After Major Fire
October 09, 2008
Late on Friday night, October 3, a massive fire destroyed the main building of Sunshine Laundry Company on Maple Avenue in Hartford’s South End.
But even as owner Bruce Johnston surveyed the damage Saturday morning, he was also working to get the company up and running again. “The important thing is to let customers know we’re still here, we’re still in business,” he said.
By Saturday afternoon, he had two trucks back on the road, delivering orders to customers. As of Tuesday afternoon, Johnston said 32 of the laundry’s 55 employees were back on the job, working out of temporary facilities at the Mayflower Laundry on Prospect Avenue on the Hartford/West Hartford town line. Johnston said he hopes to have almost all of his employees back on the job within the next few weeks. In the meantime, laundries from as far away as Rhode Island are pitching in to help Sunshine fill its orders.
“We’ve been in business since 1917 and we were always willing to help other laundries when they had an emergency...now they’re doing the same for us,” said Johnston.
The cause of the fire has yet to be determined, according to Lt. Roger Martin of the Hartford Fire Marshal’s Office, who is in charge of the investigation. Hartford firefighters responded to the blaze around 11:40 pm on Friday and had the fire under under control by midnight, but the damage had already been done.
“The important thing is that no one was hurt. You can always replace product,” said Johnston.
The fire shocked the South End community. Not only do many of Sunshine’s employees live in the surrounding neighborhood (Johnston said about 35 of his employees walk to work), the company has also been very active in supporting various community projects and initiatives. Johnston, in fact, is founder of the Maple Avenue Merchants Association.
Fortunately, Johnston said he has no plans of moving out of the city or even the Barry Square neighborhood. “Our goal is to get back here,” he said in reference to the company’s location at the corner of Maple Avenue and Clifford Street.
He added that he has already been in discussions with Tyler Smith of Smith Edwards Architects. “If we fast-track it, we think we could have a new plant here in a year to a year and a half,” said Johnston.
Hyacinth Yennie, President of the Maple Avenue Revitalization Group (MARG), said, “I was sad, really sad [about the fire], that’s all...Sunshine was such a big asset to the neighborhood, probably our biggest employer.” Yennie added that she was happy to hear that Johnston was planning to remain in town. “We [the NRZ] are ready to do whatever we can to help them get back on their feet again.”