SWAMPSCOTT — More than two years ago, a massive fire destroyed a block of apartments and stores at the corner of Humphrey and Redington streets, tearing at the fabric of the downtown business district.
But a new building has opened up opportunities for new businesses, bringing a beach feel and some jobs back to the gateway of Swampscott.
Of the six former commercial tenants in the building, only one, Raina’s Hair Color Studio by the Sea, has reopened in the new building. The other new tenants, Ocean House Surf Shop, Sea Glass Wine and Beer, and Oyo Frozen Yogurt, have opened in recent months and weeks.
“I have to say, we are very pleased with it,” said Jayne Orloff Carey, who owns the building with her brothers. “It has become a beautiful landmark for the gateway to Swampscott.”
The fire, on March 1 and 2, 2011, destroyed the three-story wood and stucco building at 128-140 Humphrey St. that contained six businesses and six apartments. About 12 people were left homeless, and business owners had to find new locations.
The smoldering ruins were quickly torn down, leaving a large, fenced-in hole in front of Hadley Elementary School. The Orloff family, owners of the building for more than 40 years (officially under the name Gary Realty Associates LLC), vowed to rebuild.
The project cost nearly $500,000, according to Swampscott town records: $73,000 to demolish the building and $418,000 to construct the shell of the building, with tenants pulling permits for the final fit out, Swampscott local inspector/facilities coordinator Rich Baldacci said.
The Orloffs could have built a three-story, mixed-use building but instead chose to construct a contemporary single-story commercial building that could accommodate up to five tenants.
“With insurance, we didn’t have a huge amount,” Carey said. Keeping the building strictly commercial allowed the owners to keep the project financed within the family.
Walter Jacob Architects of Marblehead, whose architects Jeff Tucker and Gabriela Dumitrescu helped design the new building, took care to figure out how to best align the building in the neighborhood, principal architect Walter Jacob said.
The project faced some initial opposition from a neighborhood group and those in the school community nervous about a change to the area. The building’s mechanical units were tucked inside the building so as not to cause noise for nearby Hadley Elementary School, Jacob said.
“It’s change, but it all came out good,” Jacob said.
On Valentine’s Day, Raina’s Hair Color Studio by the Sea, which had been at the Swampscott location for 31/2 years before the fire, was the first business to open in the new building. Shortly after the fire, owner Raina Morgan vowed to go back because she loved the community.
“We really didn’t have a chance to establish roots in the community and really become part of the community, and we really loved it up there,” Morgan said.
She also had a good rapport with Carey.
“I wanted to keep that,” Morgan said.
The salon employs seven people, including two part-timers from Swampscott who help run the reception desk.
“We have been doing really well. As each business opened, it drew more and more people,” Morgan said.
Huy Nguyen of Revere opened Oyo Frozen Yogurt, whose name is short for “ocean yogurt,” at the end of March. It’s Nguyen’s first such shop. He was familiar with the location. His sister lives nearby, and he has gone to the beach and the Swampscott fireworks over the years.
“It just happens this building was in the process of rebuilding because of the fire,” Nguyen said, “so we saw they were putting the footprints, the foundation, so we looked at this location as a potential to do business.”
He took up two storefronts because he needed the extra space. He has four employees who work for him.
“It’s been great,” Nguyen said of business. The new building has helped the area come alive.
“It’s doing its job bringing people,” Nguyen said.
Ocean House Surf Shop, which opened in May, is hoping to cash in on the craze for paddleboarding. In addition to surf boards, paddleboards and paddleboard rentals, the colorful shop also features flip flops, suntan lotion, sunglasses, swimsuits and other accessories. And, if you don’t surf, the shop offers a café where you can sip a cappuccino or grab a bite to eat.
Ohio native Tim Oviatt of Swampscott found the location while traveling back and forth from Beverly to Nahant to surf. He had started a paddleboard business in 2011 and had a tiny shop at the Port Marina in Beverly called Paddleboard New England. The Swampscott location looked perfect for an expanded surf shop.
“I wanted to expand and offer more of the surf experience and style and clothing. It’s doing really well,” said Oviatt, who holds a degree in finance and economics from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
The view was a draw for the new owner of the boutique wine and beer store.
“Look outside the window; you can see Boston, the beautiful ocean and oceanfront. It’s just beauty. It’s such a great community to be part of,” said Sea Glass Wine and Beer owner Michelle Penney of Melrose. She had been open 10 days on Monday.
Penney, 30, a graduate of Bentley University, also happened across the building while it was under construction and thought it would help fulfill her dream of opening a wine shop.
“I feel very lucky to have this opportunity to be here and to be part of the building and the restoring of the community,” Penney said. “Everyone I have been meeting, especially everybody in the community, has been welcoming and so excited, especially me being a more boutique wine and beer shop. It really fits the downtown and fits the area nicely.”
Carey, the building’s co-owner, said her mother would have been proud of the tenants the project has attracted and the beach feel the new building has brought to the area. She said there are plans to dedicate a plaque at the building in memory of her mother, Pauline Orloff, who bought the building initially and died a year after the fire. Carey’s mother saw the plans, but never saw the project through to completion.
Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.