In Wake Of 4-Alarm Union Street Fire, North Beach Picks Up The Pieces

Ferocious Blaze Shakes Up Neighborhood On St. Patrick’s Day

By Joe Bonadio

North Beach was hit with a terrible disaster on Saturday, the likes of which we haven’t seen here in decades. A huge fire engulfed the building that faces Union Street between Columbus Avenue and Powell Street, threatening the entire block with flames that soared more than 50 feet into the air above the structure. There are fires and then there are fires, and this was a monster. 

The Saint Patricks Day revelers, well into their celebration by 7:30pm (roughly when the fire began), were dumbfounded. Locals came out of their apartments for blocks, and walked to the scene of the conflagration. Somehow, there were no deaths and only one firefighter injury reported.

This is sobering news for the neighborhood, and particularly sad for the businesses affected (there were no residents in the building’s upper floors). Shadi Zaghayar at Coit Liquor was shut down by fire less than four years ago; he knows exactly how difficult the path ahead is for his family business. Likewise all of the other shops on that strip–Ferry Plaza Seafood, Tuk Tuk Thai, Rogue Brewing and the recently opened Salzburg–are going to be closed for a long time, at the very least.

Sadly, this tragedy happens against the background of an ongoing vacancy crisis on the adjoining block. Right now, on Columbus Avenue between Union and Green Streets, there are eight vacant ground floor parcels. This, on what has historically been one of the busiest blocks in North Beach. 

Not surprisingly, the people who love North Beach the most are upset by all of this. Tempers flared on Saturday, and there were widespread questions about the fire department’s response. Loyalties were questioned, and divisions appeared, where before there were none. 

There’s no time for that. North Beach just took a serious blow. And the hurling of insults–whether they’re directed at the Fire Chief or our Supervisor–is not what this community needs. 

A dozen years ago, this neighborhood was on its knees. Four of North Beach’s biggest restaurant properties were vacant: Original Joe’s, Park Tavern, Washington Square Bar & Grill and Enrico’s down on Broadway. There was also no Tony’s Pizza, no Sotto Mare. No Tacolicious, Chubby Noodle. Steps of Rome was empty, so there was no Il Casaro, either.

The point: in the five years that followed, North Beach rebounded hard. It’s difficult to imagine the neighborhood without all of these great places now. But our neighborhood persevered, and thrived. And as always, from hardship comes new opportunity.

We’ll figure out what happened on Saturday, one way or the other, and we’ll make things right again. There is a lot of work to be done, and in the weeks and months to come, we need to support the businesses affected–and all North Beach businesses. 

North Beach is a strong community, one of the strongest. Together we will pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and keep moving forward.