Spring Garden pharmacy burns

Owner vows to rebuild, continue to serve beleaguered area’s clients

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Flames had eaten a hole in the Spring Garden pharmacy’s blue awning, and soot caked the wall above the door. Inside, shelves that used to hold an array of bright dollar-store toys, basic groceries and medicine had turned to ash.

At about 1:30 a.m. Tuesday, firefighters arrived at Waltmire Pharmacy, 1435 Spring Garden Ave., and put out a two-alarm blaze in less than an hour. Firefighters briefly returned about 7 a.m. to put out hot spots.

Don Waltmire, 63, who has owned the pharmacy for 30 years, said nothing is salvageable. He plans to set up shop temporarily in the vacant Spring Garden Fire Hall and rebuild in a couple months.

Mr. Waltmire said investigators told him they believe the fire was deliberately set, but Pittsburgh Fire Chief Darryl Jones said the investigation is ongoing and could not comment on whether the fire was arson.

The pharmacy initially was in a Shop ’‍n Save a few blocks away; it moved to its current location 11 years ago. It has 12 employees, he said.

Katie Cesnalis, 51, who lives down the road, said she rushed to the scene when she saw the lights, staying until about 5 a.m. As crews were battling the fire, she said Mr. Waltmire was busy planning, trying to determine how he could continue to serve his customers, especially those with urgent medical needs.

Ms. Cesnalis said Mr. Waltmire has been her pharmacist for 30 years and described him as a kind man who always knew what to give her daughters when they were sick.

Tearing up, Ms. Cesnalis said, “I can’‍t see going to Giant Eagle or Walmart. I just can’‍t.”

Throughout the day, community members stopped by to offer help, lend a truck or check out the damage.

Wilbert Scheider, 85, of Reserve arrived with a white envelope with the words “daily medication” in shaky black print. Mr. Scheider, who has been frequenting the pharmacy once a week for 15 years, said he was concerned the fire had destroyed his prescription information but was told not to worry.

Someone wrote a note on the boarded-up door: “Info will be posted here. No records lost.”

“Like it says: Good Neighbor Pharmacy,” Mr. Scheider said, gesturing to a red and white sign on the wall. “He lives up to it.”

Waltmire’‍s Pharmacy was a true neighborhood business, said Carol Spehar, 60, who co-owns a shop and gas station up the road. She said many of her morning customers expressed concern for Mr. Waltmire but also wondered where they would go for medications or even small conveniences such as drinks.

“A lot of people relied on it from all over,” said Ken Kasunick, 50, who owns a business across the street from the pharmacy. “It’s a real blow to the community.”

Spring Garden is struggling enough as it is, Mr. Kasunick said, claiming the city has forgotten his community and that Waltmire’s Pharmacy was one of few businesses left in the neighborhood.

Mr. Kasunik said arson investigators were reviewing footage from some of his building’‍s 14 surveillance cameras.

First Published July 8, 2014 8:24 AM


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