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Charles Men's Store Catches Fire in Ambridge

Several fire departments battle the blaze at 541 Merchant St. in downtown Ambridge.

A fire at Charles Men’s Store in Ambridge drew crowds Friday morning as fire crews worked to battle the stubborn flames.

Firefighters were called about 5:40 a.m. to the longtime fixture at 541 Merchant St, in the heart of the Ambridge business district.

“This one’s finished,” said Tom Patrician, president of the Ambridge Chamber of Commerce, as he watched flames shoot from the roof. “That’s just going to be a hole when this is over,” he said.

Six people evacuated safely from upstairs apartments at the three-story structure. One person was taken to hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation and two firefighters who were in a stairwell inside the building when the stairs collapsed, declined to be evaluated for minor injuries, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

The family-owned business is owned by Norm DiClemente of Moon Township and his two sisters. He said the store sells suits, shirts, socks and other men’s clothing items, specializing in big men's sizes.

"It's hard to believe. I'm just shocked...it's all destroyed. Suits, sweaters, trousers, belts. We had some goods on the way in, but we had to call the companies and cancel them," DiClemente said.

DiCelemente said his father Oswald DiClemente, purchased the business in 1972 and managed it until his death in 1986. The family has run the store since then, but with his age and health, DiClemente said they won't rebuild.

Patrician said the store is one of the oldest in town.

“He tries to maintain it and he keeps it nice,” he said, watching black smoke pour from the building.  

Helen Ringel could do nothing but watch helplessly from across the street, while hoping firefighters could contain the fire to the one building. Her store, Ringel’s Ceramics, sits two doors down, and her apartment is upstairs.

Her friend, Kathleen Rukis said she felt confident in the Ambridge Fire Department, but could hardly bear to watch the men’s store burn.

“I bought so much stuff in that store, I’m just sickened by it,” Rukis said. 

The fire spread to a neighboring two-story building, but was contained by 9:30 a.m. on both buildings.

Al Sacco, who owns the store next door, said he has to replace wires before thr power can be turned back on to his building. He also must repair a portion of roof over a porch area, but Sacco said he's grateful to still have a building.

"I thought I was going to lose everything. Those people lost everything," he said referring to the residents who escaped the fire.

, , Economy, , Baden and Rochester Township fire departments provided mutual aid.

A demolition company on Saturday is scheduled to remove the upper portion of the brick building, eliminating the top row of windows, to prevent pieces from falling off.

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Rudy Plese September 14, 2012 at 08:43 PM
I was there, it was a terrible fire! There were firefighters from as far away as New Brighton. What might have looked like a scene of mass chaos to the untrained eye was truely very well organized. Every vehicle knew where to go before they even got there. And....Leetsdale Fire Department was there and played a major role in helping extinguish the fire. My son Andy was driving and operating the truck. They hooked up to the hydrant at 5th and Maplewood, ran one 5 inch line directly to the Rochester Township arial ladder directly behind the fire, ran another 5 inch to Fair Oaks at 5th and Merchant, who in turn pumped it to an arial in front of the building. He was pumping 1600 gallons per minute! Job well done firefighters! And...kudos to area businesses (Ambridge Do-It-Best and others) for providing food and bottled water to the emergency personnel! One good thing that comes out of this all is seeing how local communities can come together during a tragedy like this!

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