The William Hughes Building on Bloomfield Avenue was declared unsafe Sept. 7, after flooding from Tropical Storm Ida destroyed the building’s basement and electrical systems. (COURTESY JOSÉ BARREIRO)

By TALIA WIENER
wiener@montclairlocal.news

The William Hughes Building, stretching from 511 to 515 Bloomfield Avenue, sits in the middle of the block between North Fullerton Avenue and Park Street — one of the areas hit hardest by Ida when the storm flooded much of Montclair in early September. 

The building houses three businesses — Mesob, Ani Ramen, The Shade Store — and nine condominiums, all of which were subjected to multiple feet of flooding after the storm. While Ani Ramen has since opened, the other businesses and the condos can’t, according to José Barreiro, president of the William Hughes Condo Association.

The township’s communications director, Katya Wowk, told Montclair Local Tuesday the owners had submitted  engineering certifications to confirm the building is safe. But Barreiro said they’re still waiting on fire alarm and sprinkler inspections before some of the building can be safely occupied. 

Five and a half feet of water rushed into the basement of the building, destroying the furnace, the hot water heater, the electrical panels and meters, the fire alarms and sprinkler system, Barreiro said. The water pressure was so intense that basement walls, some made of cement board and some of cinderblocks, fell apart, he said. Nine storage units in the basement, full of bikes, Christmas decorations and photos of deceased family members, were all destroyed. 

Flooding in the basement of the William Hughes Building on Bloomfield Avenue during Tropical Storm Ida destroyed the storage units of nine residents. (COURTESY JOSÉ BARREIRO)
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Barreiro called the township after the storm, concerned about the broken building components and flickering lights. Representatives from the Montclair fire department and the building department arrived Sept. 7, deemed the building unsafe and required that all residents and businesses vacate, he said. 

Township officials had told him they could help with finding food and housing for those who were displaced, but Barreiro said he is frustrated by the lack of help during the repair process overall. 

“I just wish somebody would have just said, ‘Oh my God, these guys are in a really bad place and they’re going to need more help than just what’s normal,’” Barreiro said. “I love Montclair. It’s my home. I mean I’ve been here for years. It’s just I haven’t felt very at home in the last month and a half.”

The condo association has spent $150,000 on repairs so far, Barreiro said. The Federal Emergency Management Association referred him to a relief program by the U.S. Small Business Association, and while he’s applying, he hasn’t yet received any funds.

A GoFundMe campaign started by the niece of a resident had raised about $5,600 as of Tuesday. 

Components for the repairs to the fire alarm system are expected soon, and Barreiro said he thinks residents will be allowed back in the building by Nov. 1. 

President of the William Hughes Condo Association José Barreiro stands in the building’s basement, showing the floodline on the wall. Barreiro is 5 feet and 9 inches tall. (COURTESY JOSÉ BARREIRO)

But concerns over future flooding remain. Three feet of water also came through the front of the building during the storm, the third time in two years that has happened, Barreiro said. The storm drains and culverts in front of the building do not function properly, he said. 

The association has filed a claim for damages with Essex County, stating that its members believe the flooding was partially caused by damaged culverts on Bloomfield Avenue, Barreiro said.

Flood-induced mold is heavily impacting residents, Barreiro said. He has not allowed his 84-year-old mother to visit him after previous flooding that affected the building, concerned over air quality in the condo.

“The green mold growing on the walls, it looked like the monster from the Black Lagoon,” Barreiro said. “I never saw so much crap in my life. It was horrifying.” 

Barreiro has spent the last seven weeks living with friends and family members, as have the other residents, he said. 

“What matters to me, as the president of this homeowners association, are the homes and the businesses underneath them, because I only want everyone to be back home,” Barreiro said.

“And I want every single one of those businesses to be open and thriving and hiring people.”

The new location of Ani Ramen House was set to have its final walk-through inspection Sept. 2. The restaurant was relocating from 401 Bloomfield Ave., just a few blocks away, so that seating capacity could be more than doubled. 

Then Ida arrived, the day before inspection, leaving 5.5 feet of standing water in the basement, damaging newly laid hardwood floors, furniture, a walk-in refrigerator, bathrooms and more, according to Erica Gillespie, vice president of operations for Montclair Hospitality Group, which owns Ani Ramen.

“It’s probably somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000,” Gillespie said. “We’re in the process of submitting insurance claims and totaling everything, because it’s a combination of repair, cleaning and replacing.”

An employee of the contractor was trapped in the restaurant for hours, and stayed in a bathroom, afraid that there may have been live wires submerged in the water, Gillespie said. 

The restaurant stayed open at its old location a few weeks longer than planned while repairs were made at 511 Bloomfield. The restaurant opened its new location Oct. 10, after all the repairs and inspections were completed. 

“We were lucky in that if we had actually packed everything up and moved up the street already, it would have been worse because everything would have been damaged,” Gillespie said.

The Shade Store, at 513 Bloomfield Avenue, initially reopened a few days after the storm, but closed Sept. 7 after inspectors found extensive damages to the showroom, Kara Marmion

its senior vice president of marketing and communications, said. 

The store is following Barreiro’s lead for the building repair process, Marmion said. 

“We’re standing by to reopen as soon as work and inspections are completed,” Marmion said.

Ethiopian restaurant Mesob, at 515 Bloomfield Ave., remains closed. Co-owner Berekti Mengistu has not yet responded to phone messages left on her personal phone since Oct. 14.

“We have a difficult road ahead of us; to rebuild, repair and replace the material and financial loss,” a Sept. 5 Facebook post by the restaurant said. “But our hearts are truly flowing with love and gratitude and your prayers and reaching out to us means so much to us!”