Rising From The Ashes
When the Father's Day fire of 2001 destroyed the Long Island General Supply Company hardware store at 14th Street and Astoria Boulevard, Randy and Robin Gordon, who had taken over the business from their parents, had a decision to make. Should they remain in the neighborhood that Long Island General Supply had served since 1926, when the original owner took over a hardware business that in its turn had been founded in 1872, or should they move elsewhere?
For a number of reasons, they decided to stay. After the June 17, 2001 blaze, the Gordon brothers were able to operate Long Island General Supply out of the two warehouses left intact. They could have continued running a limited retail operation out of one warehouse and taking orders and making deliveries out of the other, but they-and their customers-felt the area still needed a walk-in hardware store. The store itself was a family tradition-Pearl and Alec Gordon, their parents, who had taken over the store that was founded by Morris M. Reichman and later sold to Alec Gordon around 1960, had run the operation until retiring in 1989 and in turn, handed it over to the brothers. Randy Gordon's two sons, Spencer and Andrew, had since joined in helping to manage the business. At the time of the fire, Randy Gordon had lived on 12th Street in Astoria for some 11 years. And long before the fire, Randy and Robin Gordon had maintained another tradition, that of serving the many religious, academic and charitable and civic betterment organizations in Astoria and Long Island City, often through reduced prices, and many times through outright contributions and taking ads to support the many commemorative journals some organizations compile as part of their fundraising efforts. It was no contest-in spite of the difficulties that dogged the Gordon brothers' decision, a hardware store will remain part of the neighborhood west of 21st Street where the thoroughfare intersects Astoria Boulevard.
Robin and Randy Gordon, formerly of the abovementioned Long Island General Supply Company, have opened R&R General Supply Company, Inc. at 18-07 Astoria Blvd., just blocks away from the old location. The 8,000-square-foot store, backed up by a 35,000-square-foot warehouse, will meet every conceivable hardware, electrical, paint, plumbing, and janitorial supply need of the management companies in apartment houses, large and small, throughout the five boroughs, as well as the local landlords and other businesses such as schools and colleges, churches, synagogues, caterers, factories and commercial buildings throughout the five boroughs that make up the company's customer base. What's more, in a glowing testament to the Gordon brothers' business acumen, Benjamin Moore Paints, a leading paint manufacturer, has made R&R General Supply one of its "signature stores", a rare gesture on the part of Benjamin Moore.
Records indicate that in 1872, a hardware store opened in the general vicinity. In 1926, that store became Long Island General Supply Company. Alec Gordon, who had served in Great Britain's Royal Army during World War II, afterward settled in America. He worked for several hardware stores, including Long Island General Hardware, later buying the business and turning it into Long
Island General Supply Company. During the 29 years he ran the business, he developed and expanded what had been a store with mostly local Astoria customers into a citywide operation. His wife, Pearl, worked in the store, and Randy and Robin spent weekends and summers learning the business. Alec Gordon died two weeks before the June 17, 2001 fire.
The fire that leveled Long Island General Supply Company also caused the deaths of three New York City firefighters and severely injured a fourth. It began when two boys, then 13 and 15 years old, sneaked into the store's back yard on the afternoon of June 17, 2001. After they had tired of other amusements, they decided to try "burning" graffiti-writing whatever they chose to scrawl in gasoline on a given surface and then setting the "writing" on fire so the image burned into the surface. In the melee, a can of gasoline tipped over and spilled. The gasoline flowed through the crack at the bottom of a door giving access to the store basement. The gasoline had partly evaporated and the vapors ignited in the flame of the pilot light of a gas hot water heater. Several continuers of other kinds of flammable substances stored in the store basement also ignited and a short time later exploded.
The conflagration blew out the store faade and killed New York City Firefighters John J. Downing, 40, of Ladder 163, Woodside, and two members of Rescue 4, also in Woodside: Brian Fahey, 46, and Harry Ford, 50. Firefighter Joseph Vosilla of Ladder Company 116, Astoria, was critically injured. Other firefighters and civilians sustained minor injuries. Queens District Attorney Richard Brown determined that there was not sufficient evidence to charge the two youths whose actions brought about the fire; the Gordon brothers and their mother, who at the time still was listed as an owner of the business, were the targets of several lawsuits.
The Fire Department Bureau of Fire Prevention had reportedly inspected the store and building in November of 2000 and found no violations. An investigation of the fire was delayed and yielded debatable results in part because many of the firefighters and officers who fought the Long Island General Supply blaze died in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center three months later, on Sept. 11, 2001. AFire Department report on the fire issued in early 2005 found that the store had not been properly classified as a potentially dangerous facility and therefore was not inspected as often as a facility so classified would have been. The report recommended a number of changes in department procedures, many of which have been put in place since the incident. The new store, for example, will have sprinklers installed as the result of a bill sponsored by City Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. mandating automatic fire sprinklers in below-grade locations in mercantile establishments. The law is a direct result of the Long Island General Supply Company blaze, and two of the three firefighters' widows were present when Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed the bill into a New York City law.
The store and other establishments like it will be classified as "A" structures and thus inspected more frequently and held to more stringent requirements for safely storing flammable materials. Detailed information concerning the structure will be entered into the Fire Department Critical Information Dispatch System, which gives responding units information about any special conditions in the buildings to which a fire alarm summons them.
Many firefighters at the Long Island General Supply Company blaze bore oxygen tanks on their backs which were only half filled, giving them perhaps five minutes to enter the building and fight the fire before they had to retreat. The report on the fire also recommended that firefighters carry full tanks into a blaze or notify their commanding officers when their tanks are half empty, giving them time to retreat.
The Gordons plan for R&R General Supply Company to contain a memorial to the firefighters, although plans for this have not been finalized, Spencer Gordon said. The changes in Fire Department policy and procedures, however, can be considered one more indication of the contribution Long Island General Supply Company has made to the community. R&R General Supply Company hopes to continue that tradition.