In the aftermath of the Christmas eve fire at Countryside Market & Deli, it seemed like the Carrafa family’s holiday season would be ruined. Their home, full of gifts, had been destroyed. But an outpouring of neighborly support refilled the Carrafa’s stockings.
“It was an overabundance,” John Carrafa, the owner of Countryside, said. “They filled my sister-in-law’s living room up with toys from one end to the other. Santa Claus was here twice. It was such a good feeling to have a good holiday, even though we didn’t have a good holiday.”
The reaction came in the form of condolences as well as gifts: cards have been arriving from Swarthmore and beyond. “I’m continually getting cards from people we know and people we don’t know, people who have stopped in our place, who sent cards from home to express sorrow for what happened. I have received cards from Alabama and Kentucky,” Carrafa said.
The Carrafas, all of whom are staying with relatives, plan to rebuild, a process expected to take about a year. Reconstruction can begin once the official police investigation into the fire is complete and the insurance claim can be processed. According to Fire Marshal Tom Moleski, the investigation will be completed sometime this week.
Though the restaurant will remain much the same, Carrafa said that he would use the reconstruction as a chance to enlarge and streamline the kitchen as well as comply with several recent ordinances. A handicap ramp is one possible addition.
The destruction of the market leaves a hole in Swarthmore’s culinary scene. It will be missed by Swarthmore students, who counted on it as a local dining option. “They had a very extensive menu variety and all the items were very interesting but delicious,” Brady White ’15 said. “The service was great and accommodating, and the atmosphere was homey and comforting,” he said.
The market was known for its wide selection of singular sandwiches, its menu boasting more than 150 options. Daniel Feist-Alexandrov ’15 recalled ordering an “excellent” chicken sandwich on ciabatta bread along with “delicious eggplant fries.” He highlighted the importance of Countryside’s proximity to the college, adding that, in Countryside, students have lost “a good and not too far away eatery.”
At 6:26 a.m. on Dec. 24, the fire department received a fire-alarm alert from the market.
The Swarthmore, Broomall, Springfield and Mooreland-Rutledge fire departments responded, making it a first alarm fire, “a very typical alarm response for a building fire in the borough of Swarthmore,” Swarthmore Fire Chief Bob Jones said. “The police described it as a ‘working fire,’ meaning there was a visible flame; when we arrived, the back addition of the kitchen was shrouded in smoke with some visible flame,” he said.
The building was made up of three parts: a house containing the dining room and living quarters (estimated to be about 100 years old), an addition built to hold the kitchen and another addition stretching back from Yale street into the property. Of these, only the house and second addition remain standing. The kitchen burnt entirely to the ground, victim to an arbitrary architectural feature: since it has no door to the outside, firefighters were forced to go through the only doors available.
“Our approach was through the front and through the back, so it was easier to concentrate our efforts on those parts and then work our way toward where the fire was,” Moleski said. “There wasn’t an exterior door that led directly into where the fire was.”
Chief Jones added that he enjoyed Countryside. “I liked it there,” he said. “It had a nice atmosphere and good food.”
In the firefighters’ attempts to control the fire, one Springfield firefighter sustained a minor injury. “The Springfield firefighter was hurt when a hose was unexpectedly filled with water,” Moleski said. “This happens from time to time, no matter how careful you are. He has since fully recovered.”
Carrafa, who has been in Swarthmore for 17 years this month, is ready to get back to work. “I have more time on my hands now, so I’m able to sit down and redesign the building, keeping the look and making it more efficient,” he said. “But I’m ready to go.”