Business Damaged in East Harlem Blast Turns Over New Leaf

Last year's giant explosion in East Harlem temporarily shut down a gardening businesses across the street, but the family that owns the Urban Garden Center had plenty of reasons to get back to business. NY1's Jose Martinez filed the following report.

The Urban Garden Center on 116th Street and Park Avenue in East Harlem is very much open for business with workers getting ready for the busy spring season. That's not how it was a year ago, when a gas explosion ripped through the two buildings right across the street, killing eight people.

"We were basically reopening from winter, being on partial hours and all that. And we were ready to rock and roll and then this happened. That's what I was thinking. And then, of course, the devastation and knowing people that passed away," said Dimitri Gatanas, owner of the Urban Garden Center.

The blast shot debris across Park Avenue into the garden center, ripping apart the greenhouse and destroying the plants.

"The place was devastated. It was in shambles. So I didn't really know what to think except that this seemed like a problem that had no end in sight that morning," Gatanas said.

"I saw how bad it was. I was thinking about the people around the area," said Reinaldo Alvarado, an Urban Garden Center employee.

The damaged store served as a staging area for rescue and recovery workers, before reopening six weeks after the explosion.

"We had to just basically restart and pick up the pieces, literally," Gatanas said.

One of those pieces - a steel beam - now serves as a planter outside the store.

While the Urban Garden Center has been in this location only since 2010, the Gatanis family has been in the gardening business since 1959. And the business's current caretaker said there was never any thought to leaving this location, which holds so much meaning for the family.

"My grandmother and grandfather, when they first came to America, including my mother when she was born, lived on 117th and Pleasant. And they shopped here, they bought their clothes here, they bought their food here during the late 40s and 50s," Gatanas said.

And it's where the family hopes its business can keep blooming into the future.

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