Fire destroys longtime family business

Fire destroys longtime family business

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A fire tears through Malkmes Florists in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Dennis Whittam

A fire tore through Malkmes Florists in Port Jefferson Station on Friday the 13th, destroying the building but not the family business that has been passed down for generations.

Family heirlooms, flower arrangements, antique furniture — all burned to ashes that morning.

“There’s nothing left,” Lisa Malkmes, one of the owners, said about the property damage in a phone interview Tuesday. “We lost the entire building and all of our computers. Everything’s gone.”

Dennis Whittam, a spokesman for the Terryville Fire Department, said firefighters received a notification that morning of a “fully involved structure fire” across Route 112 from the firehouse, at the longtime neighborhood business at the end of Oakland Avenue.

Firefighters on the scene at Malkmes Florists in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Dennis Whittam
Firefighters on the scene at Malkmes Florists in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Dennis Whittam

A Port Jefferson Fire Department engine was the first truck on the scene and started to attack the flames on the exterior, Whittam said, as Terryville’s ladder truck and other engines set up hand lines and master streams under command of Chief Richard McCarren and Assistant Chief Tom Young. The Selden, Mount Sinai and Coram fire departments also offered assistance.

The fire was out by about noon, Malkmes said, and then the florists quickly had to put together flowers for a wedding happening that afternoon, after the bride’s original flowers burned in the blaze. Everything was finished on time, she said, “because of my employees. They opened their home and we were able to get flowers in quick enough.”

She added that the business put flowers together for two weddings and two funerals over the weekend as well.

Malkmes Florists & Greenhouses has been in operation for decades, and was previously run by longtime community member Harold Malkmes, who died in 2011. Malkmes was a 17-term Brookhaven Town highway superintendent who grew up in Port Jefferson Station and studied horticulture in college before taking the helm at the business, which had been in the family since the 19th century. He passed the reins of the shop to one of his sons, Michael, a Miller Place resident who runs the business with wife Lisa.

The Malkmes name is also familiar to town residents who have visited the community man’s other namesake, the Harold H. Malkmes Wildlife Education and Ecology Center in Holtsville.

Lisa Malkmes said the florists are still open for business. They are working on phone orders and will be putting up a temporary structure soon, with the eventual goal of reconstructing the business.

A fire tears through Malkmes Florists in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Dennis Whittam
A fire tears through Malkmes Florists in Port Jefferson Station. Photo by Dennis Whittam

This is not the first time the family has had to rebuild.

According to Michael Malkmes, who is also a heavy equipment operator in the town highway department, the business dates back to the 1800s, when it was based in Medford. But a fire tore through that original building, destroying it.

“My grandfather decided to rebuild up here on the North Shore,” Malkmes said Tuesday, and a new shop opened at the end of Oakland Avenue in 1912 called Belle Croft Greenhouses, in honor of a historic name for the neighborhood. That became Malkmes Florists in the 1970s under the ownership of Harold Malkmes.

There were still historical and familial tributes around the shop and property when the fire caught: a picture of Harold playing tennis, a sign from when the man ran for highway superintendent, an aerial photo of the shop from the 1930s, family heirlooms like an antique vanity and curio cabinet, and Harold’s service medal from his time in the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II, as a tail gunner on a B-25 bomber in Italy.

“There’s a lot of tears,” Michael Malkmes said. “We’ve been there for eons so it’s kind of a shame.”

The cause of the fire is still under investigation.

“The building was built in 1912, so the wood was probably a little dry — that’s why it cooked the way it did,” he said. “Once [the fire] punched through the roof, it was just like a chimney.”

But just as before, the family florists plan to rise from the ashes.

“We’re definitely going to rebuild,” he said. “Our customers have been coming there for years.”