"Thank God No One Was Hurt" In Ave. L Bldg. Collapse, Says Owner
"I was standing in the store with my wife Tina and my friend Larry at about 5:15 p.m. when we heard it and saw the whole front of the store fall," he said. "It was incredible."
Beneduce and Canarsien Larry Zomick said they saw the large front gate start to come down first.
"The gate came down just like a guillotine," said Zomick. "If anybody had been coming in or going out the door, they would have been beheaded." He said the gate went back up again "like a yo-yo" but then fell as the bricks and mortar holding them plummeted to the ground along with a large sign and awning.
"Thank God nobody was walking by," Beneduce said. "It's really a miracle that nobody was around at that time of day." He said that, usually, pedestrian and vehicle traffic increases as the afternoon ends "but this time we didn't even have any cars parked in front of the place. That was really strange."
Zomick said he parked his car just east of the store on this day. "I can't understand it," he said. "I just pulled up and parked. It was really unusual 'cause there was nobody blocking me and I could have parked right in front of the store."
Beneduce said that, as soon as the dust cleared and it appeared the bricks had stopped falling, he ushered his wife and friend out of the store and to safety. Witnesses and fellow merchants called 911 and firefighters from Battalion 58, Ladder 170 and Engine 257, as well as police from the 69th Precinct came on the scene immediately, along with NYPD Emergency Service Units.
Police secured the area and firefighters continued to pry free all apparently loose bricks, asphalt and sheetrock within the area. Fire officials said the cause of the falling faade is still under investigation, although Beneduce said he felt it was because of the heavy rains and unusually rainy weather lately. He noted another "unusual" fact is that the huge glass windows across the front of the store didn't break.
The store, featuring everything from hardware to kitchenware to linens and stationery, has been a fixture on Avenue L for decades. It was built in 1958 and originally called "Kenny's." Beneduce took it over ten years ago, buying the building and naming the store Big John's after his son.
The day after the collapse, Mr. And Mrs. Beneduce and his son, his son's wife Tammy and some friends covered the upper part of the building's faade with a blue tarp, cleaned the sidewalk, dusted and tidied up the front area and Big John's was back in business, ready - with a sigh of relief - to greet the Memorial Day weekend shoppers.