PALMYRA — This coming Tuesday, it will be business as usual at Mark’s Pizzeria in Palmyra when the new pizzeria opens at 11 a.m. for the first time since May.
Well, maybe not quite business as usual.
A little over six months after a fire destroyed the pizza shop and two neighboring buildings on Main Street in the village, a new building is nearly complete and ready to continue a legacy that started when owner Mark Crane was just 21 years old with his first pizzeria in the village.
Construction crews are on site finishing the details — painting, hooking up electric, installing floor and ceiling tiles, putting in the massive ovens in the kitchen where the walls are all stainless steel, laying the last of the brick facade and hanging the wooden Mark’s Pizzeria sign. Crews are in their third month of work, hustling to complete the building by the desired deadline.
And Crane couldn’t be happier.
“We’ll be right to the minute,” he said of the progress toward the Oct. 29 opening. “I feel great. It’s right in the spot where it all began.”
Crane came to Palmyra when he was 21 years old to start his own pizzeria. Throughout the years he has enjoyed great success, and today he has 52 franchise locations. The new pizzeria in Palmyra is the largest restaurant he has built to date.
It will boast a huge dining area with self-seating for 60 diners. The building’s brick facade keeps in time with the canal-era feel of the village, including a wooden Mark’s Pizzeria sign with lights shining down from above. To the right of the sign is a 3-foot lighted clock. A marker, “Crane 2013,” will go up on the left side of the sign.
Crane is also building a park to the west of the new pizzeria with access from the restaurant, from Main Street and the back parking lot. The 1,500-square foot park will have seating for 32, and will be enclosed by a 6-foot wrought-iron fence to be installed in the spring. Crane said the light posts will have outlets for park users to plug in their computers and take advantage of the village’s free Wifi. The cement slab will be poured and chairs and tables put in place before the opening, but most of the landscaping won’t be completed until spring, Crane said.
He can’t praise the people working on the project enough.
“You’re only as good as your contractors,” he said. “All the contractors have been great. Some of them have been with me for 30 years. They do great work.”
The fire started on May 3 when Christina L. Nicklaw, 29, formerly of 236 E. Main St., allegedly set fire to a pile of blankets and sheets in an apparent suicide attempt in her bedroom while her 4-year-old daughter was still in the apartment. Although the fire was believed to have been sufficiently doused, the smoldering pile rekindled and spread quickly from building to building, bringing 16 fire companies from the area to battle the blaze. Nicklaw was arrested by Palmyra police in June after a grand jury handed down an indictment that included charges of fourth-degree arson, a class E felony, fourth-degree criminal mischief, second-degree reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of a child, all of which are class A misdemeanors.
As Nicklaw is examined by doctors for the defense and prosecution to determine her competency for a mental defect defense, the anger many people seemed to be feeling appears to be dissipating. Crane has had countless people thank him for rebuilding on the spot following the devastating fire.
In the course of a summer, the face of the village was altered greatly, starting with the fire that left three towering eyesores. It was about three months after the fire before the buildings were finally demolished. And in a matter of days the village was changed again by a large hole where the buildings once stood. Finally with summer’s end, a new building rose up, mimicking as much as was feasible the look and feel of the structures before it and once again, the face of Palmyra changed.
‘It could have been a lot worse’
Mayor Chris Piccola said there are still people out there who are angry about the loss of the historic buildings, the loss of a portion of Main Street’s facade and the historic aspect, but most are pleased by what they see.
“A realistic person has to sit down and think about how much worse it could have been,” Piccola said. “And it could’ve been a lot worse.”
Piccola said the building owners could’ve abandoned the buildings, forcing the village to go to court, take over the properties, demolish them and add the demolition costs to the property owners’ taxes. And then an ugly hole would have remained, Piccola said.
“I think most people are very supportive,” said Piccola. “I’m extremely relieved. The building looks beautiful. It’s all amazing. The fact that they did it in six months, I think that’s really amazing. We ended up with the best case scenario — better than I could ever imagine.”
Familiar faces
Regulars at Mark’s will see many familiar faces who have returned to their positions at the pizzeria, including Crane. He will be working right along beside them in the beginning weeks much like he was working right along with contractors during construction. Crane was on site every day and ready to get it done in time for trick-or-treaters this Halloween. Mementos salvaged from the fire are framed and ready to be hung up in time for the opening, he said. For Crane, it’s nearing the end of an emotional time and the start of a new chapter in the community where it all began.
“It’s hard to explain,” Crane said, struggling to find the right words. “There’s no simple answer about how I feel right now. I just couldn’t feel any better.”
See our timeline of events from the fire to the nearly completed pizzeria below in our photo galleries.