Short Hills fire leaves businesses wondering where they go from here

On Friday, March 6, a fire left six businesses in the Short Hills Town Center in Cherry Hill completely destroyed. The area has been fenced off to prevent the public from getting too close as the structure is highly unstable.

Owners of six businesses destroyed by a fire at the Short Hills Town Center March 6 are wondering what’s next as the Cherry Hill and Camden County fire marshal offices investigate the cause of the blaze.

Firefighters were dispatched to 484 Evesham Road at around 10:51 a.m. that Friday and spent nearly an hour combatting the fire. But the six businesses in the strip were beyond salvaging.

Cherry Hill Fire Chief Chris Callan said he anticipates it will still be several weeks before there are definitive answers on the cause of the blaze. 

“It’s still under investigation; we don’t have an official cause we can release,” Callan said.

He said the fire marshals and the building’s insurance company will have to come to a consensus on the source of the fire before they release any official cause. 

There’s no definitive timeline as to when the area will be demolished and cleared. Callan said right now, their primary concern is preserving evidence for their investigation. Once the investigation is complete, they’ll work with the building’s insurance company to determine the demolition logistics. 

Callan said they’ve come to the understanding that a contractor was doing some electrical work on the building at the time of the fire. He said at this time, their department is not attributing the fire to the electrical work, but they are investigating whether it was a factor in the blaze. 

In the meantime, the area has been fenced off to prevent the public from getting too close. Callan said the structure is highly unstable. The fire consumed many of the key structural supports, and the walls left standing are only remaining upright due to gravity. He said the remaining structure could fall on its own at any time. 

Barry Kratchman, owner and president of Classic Cake, said he first learned about the fire from one of his stores managers who called him to say a tremendous amount of smoke was filling the store. He immediately told them to get out, and within 15 minutes, the entire strip was ablaze. 

He was in a state of disbelief when he learned the business was entirely lost.

“The brain could not process what the eyes are seeing,” Kratchman said.

Kratchman said his immediate thought was what would happen to all the people that ordered cakes. Their employees started calling people that day to let them know that they’d make arrangements for them to pick up their cakes. 

All of Classic Cakes’ goods are baked at their factory in the Frankford section of Philadelphia, so they began thinking about places where they could set up a temporary partnership to serve their area clients. Kratchman went into Short Hills Restaurant & Deli, also located in the Short Hills Town Center, that day, and owner Jerry Kaplan happily agreed to let Kratchman set up shop at the deli. 

By Monday, Classic Cake was operating out of Short Hills with the business offering up their fridges and front of house displays for cake pickups. 

Saturday and Sunday marked the first time in 35 years that Classic Cake was closed in Cherry Hill. Kratchman said while they are devasted by the fire, they’re grateful for the outpouring of support they’ve received from friends, neighbors, churches and local businesses. 

“What we did realize is brick and mortar is one thing, but the brand still remains strong; the community support remains strong,” Kratchman said. 

While Classic Cake is operating out of Short Hills, they’ll be looking at local real estate opportunities. Kratchman said if they wait for the plaza to be rebuilt, they’ll have been out of the game too long. 

A representative for Starbucks said it’s too early to say if they’ll rebuild at the same site. 

“We’re thankful to report no customers or partners were harmed in the fire, and we’re assessing the damage to the store and supporting local authorities in any way we can,” the representative said.

Ilina Sperling, co-owner of the The Hanger Boutique, said she and co-owner Shari Sherwood weren’t at the store at the time of the blaze. She said it was overwhelming watching the fire on television and being inundated by calls and messages from their friends and coworkers.

The business had only opened four months prior. Sperling said they were encouraged by the positive feedback they were receiving from the Cherry Hill community. They lost all of their inventory at their Cherry Hill location. 

“It was all of our blood, sweat and tears that we had put into the business over the last couple of months,” Sperling said. 

The Hanger Boutique has a second location in Richboro, Pa., so the business has been operating solely out of that location in the meantime. She encourages those interested in supporting their business to visit that location.

Sperling said at this time, it’s too early to say if they’ll reopen in Cherry Hill. 

“It was a devastating loss for us along with the community that was there,” Sperling said. “We’re trying to preserve the community that was there. We’re trying to persevere through it the best we can.”