A landmark grocery store in west Belleville was gutted by a fire Monday evening. The blaze at Main Street Market took firefighters more than two hours to get under control.
Belleville Fire Chief Thomas Pour said firefighters on the scene were on the "defensive" the entire evening as "heavy fire" was throughout the building, located at 8193 W. Main St.
Main Street Market employee Kayla Charlton, of Caseyville, said she heard what sounded like glass breaking in the back of the store while her and co-owner Dimple Aggrawal were in the front. Charlton started to head toward the back, but then they heard a louder noise and decided to exit the building.
"I didn't see anything. I just heard noise," she said as she watched firefighters extinguish the blaze from the sidewalk across the street from the market. "We saw smoke coming out the side of the vent (outside)."
No customers were in the store at the time, and no injuries were reported.
Co-owner Vin Aggrawal of Edwardsville said he doesn't know what happened. "This is very bad," he said. "This shouldn't happen to anyone."
"I feel so bad for them," Charlton said of the husband and wife owners. "They have been going through a lot."
Charlton, who recently had a baby, said she doesn't know what she's going to do without a job.
Her grandmother Jane Winters, of Caseyville, said she's just thankful Charlton was unharmed. Winters first heard of the fire at Main Street Market through social media.
She raced to the store and found Charlton standing near the parking lot. "She was safe," Winters said of her granddaughter.
Longtime owners of the market, Mike Chenault and John Carpenter, sold the store in January to Vin and Dimple Aggrawal, of Edwardsville.
Vin Aggrawal said he wasn't sure what they were going to do now.
A large crowd of onlookers gathered along West Main Street as firefighters battled the blaze.
Store customer Teri Fleshren, who lives nearby, said she had just gotten a pizza at the market, where she had shopped for two decades.
A resident of west Belleville Betty Courtial said, "It's so sad. It's kind of a landmark in west Belleville. They were always known for good meat products."
Belleville resident and former employee Carli Turner said she was depressed when she heard about the fire at the market. She worked there for about a year. "This has been around for so long," Turner said.
Her brother Wes Turner worked at the store for eight years.
"Everyone in the neighborhood has so many memories here," he said. "It's kind of surreal. It's so sad to see it go. It was a great place to work."
Sad was a word uttered by many in the crowd gathered along the sidewalk across the street from the market.
"It's a very sad day for west Belleville," said resident Lisa Curtis. "It's so fortunate no one got hurt."
"We are all really sad to see this happen," said Michelle Jamruk of Belleville. "Ever since I was a kid it's always been here. We hope they can make a comeback; we need it here."
"It's a very sad day to see Main Street Market destroyed by fire," said Linda Havlin, a west Belleville resident involved with the West End Redevelopment Corp. "Main Street Market has been like family to many residents in the west end and the Carpenter family had operated the market for several generations. ... It's a great loss for the community and the west end and the new owners."
Havlin said she has lived in the west end for more than 40 years and her family frequented the market, looking forward to fresh turkey and special Christmas dressings.
Havlin said her daughter was driving by the fire Monday night and called her.
"It's a small town," Havlin said. "Everybody knows everybody so you always see friends and neighbors at the store. Now it's a part of the community that's no longer there."
"It's really sad to see such a building, in the heart of the community, in the matter of an hour or two, just go away," Mayor Mark Eckert said.
SIGHTS AND SOUNDS
The fire started in the rear of the building around 6 p.m., Pour said, and quickly spread to the front.
Just before 7:30 p.m. Monday, Belleville firefighters asked all bystanders to back off the sidewalk and into the lawns of neighboring houses as flames burst through the front windows of the store. Many onlookers jumped back several feet.
A second story in the back of the building collapsed as the two-alarm fire spread throughout the structure, Pour said.
Bright orange flames were visible through the front and the roof. Parts of the interior of the building could been seen collapsing, and firefighters, using two ladder trucks, doused the flames from above. A large amount of black smoke filled the area.
At one point, Pour said the department had to request additional water pressure from the water company. "We were having trouble flowing multiple lines," he said.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation. Pour said the building was under construction as upgrades were being made including some electrical work. Vin Aggrawal said an electrician was at the market for three days last week and earlier in the day Monday.
West Main Street was closed for several blocks Monday night while firefighters worked the scene.