ByWard Market hoping customers return after 'devastating' fire
4-alarm fire damaged businesses and shut down main market building
ByWard Market businesses are hoping to welcome customers back to the historic district this weekend after Friday's devastating fire.
Emergency crews were called to Vittoria Trattoria around 11:30 a.m. A shroud of thick smoke covered the main market building, forcing business owners to evacuate.
Shahab Uddin works at Shafali Indian Restaurant. He smelled smoke before police told him to leave the building.
"It's sad for everybody. Vittoria Trattoria is really well known and they bring a lot of customers from all over the city," Uddin said.
The fire took several hours to bring under control, with firefighters still dousing hot spots into the early evening.
No one was injured, and the cause is under investigation.
Market building closed until 10 a.m.
Ottawa Markets, the arms-length city agency that runs publicly owned parts of the market, has asked its vendors not return to their businesses until 10 a.m. Saturday.
"It's devastating, because the ByWard Market precinct works as a whole. All these shops, regardless of their size, are very important," said Jeff Darwin, the agency's executive director.
Darwin said the closure is to ensure people are safe and is based on instructions from Ottawa Fire Services.
He acknowledged any closure in the market is difficult for the small businesses, which are mostly independently operated.
"They're small-margin businesses," Darwin said. "Every lost weekend is lost revenue for them."
Darwin said city-owned structures weren't seriously affected by the fire, and he's mostly concerned about whether businesses on the east side of William Street will be able to rebuild and re-open.
Katherine Solomon, spokesperson for the ByWard Market BIA, said her group will be looking for ways to help with a rebuild.
"It's an incredible loss to be experiencing a fire here, and we're just hoping the damage to the insides of the building are quite minimal," she said.
"Its a huge loss in our history here."
Shop, don't gawk
The City of Ottawa couldn't confirm exactly when 35 William St. was built, but said the building dates to at least 1872.
Solomon said the disruption comes as businesses are preparing to welcome customers to their patios and shops after a lingering, nasty winter.
"I think people's natural curiosity is still going to encourage people to come out and see what is happening," she said.
Mayor Jim Watson visited the market late Friday and had a simple message for residents.
"Don't come down to gawk. Come down to shop," Watson said.
"Come down and support the merchants in the ByWard Market. They need your help more than ever before because of what's gone on today."
Watson said the city will work with the owners to speed up repairs in whatever way possible.