A three-alarm fire swept through a building at the intersection of Lake Street and Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis on Sunday night, gutting the building that was once home to the landmark Roberts Shoes store and more recently housed several small businesses, offices and artists' studios.
Smoke began filling the three-story brick building around 10:30 p.m., shortly before Minneapolis firefighters arrived and found a fire in the basement. Fire crews got everyone outside and no one was injured — but it was too late to save much of the building. The fast-moving blaze forced firefighters outside, where they spent hours trying to get it under control.
By Monday morning, the fire was finally out, but crews stayed on the scene spraying water onto what remained of the building and shoveling up piles of broken glass and other debris. Several blocks of Lake Street were closed, but a steady stream of people stopped by to take pictures and gawk at the mess.
Mark Simon, the building's owner and the former operator of Roberts Shoes, said he got a notification about a fire alarm in the building Sunday evening. He headed over, unsure what to expect. He found the building where he had worked for more than 30 years — and where his family had operated the shoe store for 77 years before it closed in 2014 — in flames.
"It looked extremely horrible," he said, "but then it got worse and worse."
He watched from across the street as the building burned, trying to process the loss.
René D. Thompson, who ran a Latin dance studio on the third floor — and was the only person with a residential unit in the building — was working at another job when he learned of the fire and raced over to find his home and studio engulfed in flames.
Monday morning, Thompson fought back tears as he stood in the street watching the cleanup. For years, the building has been the center of his life. Before he ran the dance studio, he sold shoes downstairs. His daughter, now 12, took her first steps in the shoe store.
"I'm just trying to be strong," he said.
Several businesses on the street level were filled with rubble from the upper floors, which had caved in. There was a tax office, a pain and rehabilitation clinic, a clothing store and a seafood restaurant that advertised weekend karaoke nights.
Ali Mansour, the owner of the Galaxy Wireless business on the first floor, was among those watching as the fire department and city officials worked. He, too, had come to the building Sunday night when he heard about the fire — and initially figured it was probably something small.
From the street Monday, he could see that some of his shop appeared to have escaped almost unscathed. Phone accessories were still hung neatly on one wall, but a mountain of debris filled the shop.
"It's devastating," he said.
The cause of the fire is under investigation, and inspectors were still working Monday to determine whether it was safe for the building's owner and tenants to go inside to sort through the rubble.
Simon said he wasn't sure what would become of the building, which has long been a focal point for the neighborhood because of Roberts Shoes' long run.
Simon had been trying to sell it — a "For Sale" sign still hung on the building Monday — but said he had removed the listing late last year. He remarked, glumly, that he recently reminded the real estate agent to remove the sign.
Now, Simon said, the demolition crews would have to do it.