Fire destroyed grocery store in downtown Sharon

By Chris Schultz/Janesville Gazette

(Published Nov. 20, 2006, 11:38 a.m.)

Yogesh Patel wiped a tear as he talked about his former store, Ed's Sharon Food Mart, a downtown anchor and landmark in this southern Walworth County village that burned overnight.

As Patel sat in the Sharon Community Center talking to police, firefighters outside poured water on hot spots in the fire-ravaged remains of the store and an upstairs apartment.

Patel said he got a call from his wife, Shobha, about 11:30 p.m. Sunday that the market, which may have been the last downtown grocery store in Wisconsin, was on fire. The store was a total loss.

Patel bought the store in April from previous owners Ed and Elizabeth Sprigler.

"I'd like to rebuild," Patel said.

But he doesn't know if that's possible.

Sharon Fire Chief Mark A. Ruosch said his department was called at 11:26 p.m. Sunday. A downtown tenant apparently made the first 911 call, he said.

As far as firefighters can tell, the blaze started in the basement, Ruosch said. The cause is undetermined.

The fire burned so furiously that firefighters almost drained the village's water system. Tanker trucks shuttled water from Walworth.

Although he and his family live in Woodstock, Ill., Patel said he regards Sharon as a second hometown. Patel drove to Sharon this morning to watch more than 100 firefighters from at least 23 departments fight the fire that consumed his business.

Patel got to know many of the elderly in Sharon who walked to the market at 198 Baldwin St. for their groceries. Until he decides what to do about the business, he vowed to be in Sharon every other day to help those five or six elderly customers order and pick up their groceries from Walworth, seven miles down the road.

Patel said no one was in the store when the fire started, but a tenant was in the apartment above the store.

Linda Turner looked up from across the street this morning at what remained of her apartment. She couldn't hide her tears.

She said her sister, Dawn Elwood, and father, Jimmy Elwood, moved into the apartment above the store in June.

Jimmy was visiting his brother in southern Illinois on Sunday night, Turner said.

Turner said Dawn heard a "boom" and then smelled smoke a short while later. Suspecting a fire, Dawn ran out of the apartment with just her purse, shorts, shirt and shoes.

"Everything else is gone," Turner said.

Family pictures and mementos were likely burned in the fire that took down the back wall and roof of the building.

Also lost were two of three family cats, Turner said. Firefighters rescued Dawn's favorite cat, Gilligan, "her little buddy," Turner said.

Ruosch said firefighters and equipment came from Darien, Walworth, Williams Bay, Lake Geneva, the city and town of Delavan, Whitewater, Elkhorn, Edgerton, Evansville, Footville, Milton, Janesville, Bloomfield-Genoa City, town of Turtle and Clinton. Also responding were Illinois fire departments from Harvard, Hebron, Harlem-Roscoe and Boone County fire districts 1, 2 and 3.

The extra departments were called to the scene because the grocery store shares walls with other downtown buildings. Firefighters acted quickly enough that buildings on each side of the grocery store were not damaged.

At least 30 pieces of equipment responded, including four ladder trucks that probably saved the day, Ruosch said.

Because of the heat, firefighters couldn't enter the building. They instead used the ladder trucks to pour water onto the blaze from above.

The last of the visiting fire departments, Darien, cleared the scene at 7:45 a.m., Ruosch said.

Ruosch said the tenant in the apartment and a police officer, who was not immediately identified, suffered some smoke inhalation. They were treated at an area medical facility and released, he said.

He said the building is not salvageable and probably will have to be bulldozed.

"The problem is that's the heart of town," Ruosch said.

Village President Bob Carlson said the fire was a disappointing setback for the village of 1,500. But he said he hopes the owner plans to rebuild.

"We're going to take a negative and turn it into a positive," Carlson said.

The store at 198 Baldwin St. has a long history.

The former owners, the Spriglers of Rockford, Ill., ran the store for about 20 years. Ed Sprigler had said that, according to his information, the building had been a grocery store since at least 1935, when it opened as Royal Blue store.

Patel, a native of India, bought the store in April but decided to keep Ed's name on the business.

The Patels also own a Subway sandwich shop in Milwaukee and a liquor store in Woodstock, Ill.




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