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Two buildings destroyed in downtown Grafton blaze (VIDEO, UPDATED)

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    Firefighters battle a blaze in downtown Grafton on Monday.

    BRUCE BISHOP / GAZETTE

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    Smoke billows from Lu's Pizza. A fire that started this morning at the building next door appears to have spread to the Grafton landmark.

    BRUCE BISHOP / GAZETTE

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    This image, taken from a Chronicle-Telegram Facebook Live video, shows firefighters battling a blaze on Main Street in Grafton.

    BRUCE BISHOP / GAZETTE

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    Debris is cleared following a fire in downtown Grafton on Monday.

    MELISSA LINEBRINK / GAZETTE

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    Melissa Mould, left, and Mike Roth of Lone Tree Tavern in North Ridgeville prepare food donations for workers fighting a fire in downtown Grafton on Monday. Jimmy John's and Marco's donated food as well.

    MELISSA LINEBRINK / GAZETTE

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GoFundMe accounts for those affected by Monday’s fire in Grafton

GoFundMe for Lu’s Pizza: https://www.gofundme.com/lu039s-pizza-fire
Although the business was insured, the money is for the employees’ immediate needs, according to the account page.

GoFundMe for Allstate building tenant:
https://www.gofundme.com/rp9ny-house-fire
A tenant and her family safely escaped from the Allstate building when the fire broke out, but they lost everything. She made the account to help her grandma, sister and two nephews, ages 1 and 8.

GRAFTON — In less than 12 hours, the face of downtown Grafton forever was changed.

Two buildings that have stood on Main Street in the heart of the downtown since the 1890s are gone after a fire Monday morning quickly destroyed one building and forced the second to be demolished Monday evening. A third building suffered severe damage.

The fire started in the building housing the defunct restaurant 216 Fusion at 931 Main St., about 8:45 a.m., burning so fast and strong that the building collapsed sometime between 10:30 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. The rubble continued to burn and despite the efforts of firefighters from nearly every department in the area and some from Medina County, the flames spread next door to Lu’s Pizza and Allstate Insurance on the other side.

The State Fire Marshal’s Office and the Lorain County Association of Fire Investigators are working to determine a cause. No information had been released as of Monday.

At Lu’s — a beloved family restaurant that’s been a downtown staple for 42 years — fire ripped through the basement and the side of the building, creating billowing clouds of black smoke that could be seen for miles. The fire gutted the building — taking with it a lifetime of memories of the Bohac family, nearly all of whom found themselves making pizzas at some point in their lives.

On the other side of 216 Fusion, the brick Allstate building at 927 Main St. looked to be imperiled as the flames from the collapsed restaurant beat against it. The building sustained severe damage and displaced the tenants from its six apartments on the second story.

All of the tenants in the Allstate building apartments were able to evacuate before the fire spread. During the day, Grafton Village Hall was opened to give them a place to stay. The American Red Cross also stepped in to assist the tenants with finding places to stay and to replace belongings.

Tenants had not been allowed to return to the building as of Monday evening.

Tenant Ian Gladish, 24, said he woke up to the smell of smoke in his apartment and his girlfriend frantically saying that they needed to leave.

By the time he, his girlfriend and their dog left the building, he said he could see the fire in the Fusion building.

“The lower portion, like underneath the deck, had been on fire and within not even 10 minutes, the entire building was up in flames,” he said.

Gladish is staying with his girlfriend’s mother in Medina while they wait for details on their apartment in the Allstate building. The couple hopes to return to the apartment to gather some valuables, including pictures of family members, antiques and notes he wrote to his girlfriend.

Bonnie Schmidt, the owner of the Allstate building, said she was allowed by fire officials to grab a few items after the fire was put out. Ceilings collapsed in the building, the sprinkler was system activated — soaking everything inside on top of the water sprayed by firefighters trying to protect the building, and the brick face of the building cracked.

Meanwhile, Brianna Donaldson, the niece of Lu’s Pizza owner Scott Bohac and the great-granddaughter of the business’ founder, Lu Bohac-Capp, said she heard about the fire from friends who are first responders. She called off from her job as an operating room assistant at University Hospitals Elyria Medical Center and from her class at Lorain County Community College to spend the day on a Main Street sidewalk, watching her family’s history burn.

Donaldson, who works at the pizzeria on the weekends, said firefighters told her the flames reached the basement of Lu’s Pizza before spreading upstairs. The building is insured, but the pizzeria still has irreplaceable items, like old photos dating back to when the business opened.

Scott Bohac was at the fire scene but left before the fire was put out and before the demolition. Donaldson said he just couldn’t watch it.

Village Administrator Joe Price said the loss of the buildings, especially Lu’s Pizza, is a great misfortune for the community, and the pizza shop’s history as a town mainstay made the damage feel even greater.

Kelly Waddell, the owner of 216 Fusion, which opened in 2018 and closed within a year, declined to comment Monday. While the restaurant was closed, Price said there was a tenant in the building at the time of the fire.

After fighting the fire from in front and to the rear of the buildings, officials determined that the building housing Lu’s Pizza needed to come down before nightfall.

Kazmierczak Construction from Wellington brought in an excavator and its giant claw started taking down the charred wood frame of the building at 6:20 p.m., after the few first stabs pulled down the white “Lu’s Pizza” sign that family members wanted to save. Fire officials halted work momentarily to retrieve the sign from where it had fallen and walk it off to the side to give it to the family.

The only other item saved? The bell that hung inside the front door of Lu’s — the one that rang when customers walked in.

Price estimated that the buildings, including furnishings and equipment, added up to a loss of $200,000 to $250,000 each. The Allstate building suffered at least $100,000 in damages, he said.

Lu’s Pizza is insured as is the Allstate building. Waddell would not say whether he had insurance.

Price said the village will offer whatever help it can.

“We’re going to do everything that we can as a village to make sure that (those affected) are being given any assistance,” he said.

The village already has started searching for new office space for the Allstate business while GoFundMe accounts have been created for the family of Lu’s Pizza and some of the tenants in the Allstate building.

History of the buildings

According to “190 years, 1817-2007: Grafton, Ohio — our heritage trail,” by Doris Wildenhelm, the building housing Allstate was rebuilt in 2003 after an earlier fire. Where the single building now stands, two used to be — both of which were lost after a 1985 fire destroyed the Country Kitchen restaurant and West River Florist. The fire from that restaurant spread to the same buildings involved in the fire Monday.

The building housing the pizzeria held multiple businesses since it was built in the 1890s. It was a general store in 1905, a printing shop in 1945 and a grocery and meat store in 1969. After a fire in 1971, the building became Village Pizza in 1972 and then Lu’s Pizza in March 1977.

The building for the 216 Fusion first housed a meat market in 1891. It continued to serve as a butcher shop as the building changed owners a few times before the last retired in 1930. It housed several businesses including a shop that was the favorite hangout for high school students in 1945 known as Larry Valerius’ Shop. In 1971, it became Ted Rone Dry Cleaning before closing from the 1985 fire. It was renovated in the 1990s and has housed other businesses since that time.

Contact Bruce Walton at (440) 329-7123 or bwalton@chroniclet.com. Follow him on Facebook @BWalton440 or Twitter @BruceWalton.
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