The efforts to help the residents and businesses in the downtown Gardiner buildings damaged by a fire nearly two weeks ago have raised around $13,000 so far, including nearly $7,000 from a silent art auction over the weekend.

The roughly dozen people living in the building where officials believe the fire originated lost essentially everything in their homes, and a tattoo studio that had opened in the adjoining building a couple of weeks before the fire lost thousands of dollars’ worth of equipment and had just sunk thousands of dollars more in renovations.

The building that houses Gerard’s Pizza, a downtown mainstay that celebrated its 50th anniversary last year, also sustained water and smoke damage and hasn’t opened since the July 16 fire.

“The community response has just been amazing,” said Mayor Thomas Harnett, “and this community, it doesn’t surprise me, but you just feel so good about how it responds and supports people in a difficult time.”

Harnett, who called the fire a “community disaster,” is on the city committee in charge of fielding assistance requests from victims of the fire. So far, the funds have been used for buying furniture, clothing and other household items for the residents who lost their homes, he said. A couple of donations – $1,650 from the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors and $1,000 from Renys, which has a store in downtown Gardiner – were earmarked specifically for the businesses affected by the fire, Harnett said.

UNITED WAY COLLECTING DONATIONS

The best way to support the effort is to donate directly to the United Way of Kennebec Valley, Harnett said, because all of the money will go to the victims of the fire.

The United Way of Kennebec Valley is collecting and distributing the donations and created a GoFundMe online fundraiser page for the effort. The organization, along with the American Red Cross of Maine, has assisted nine residents of the apartment building, said Heather Pouliot, resource development and communications manager for the United Way of Kennebec Valley.

Others haven’t come forward yet to seek help, Pouliot said.

The cause of the fire is still unknown. Investigators with the Office of State Fire Marshal said they’re looking to speak with four residents of 235 Water St. Two of them, Daren Jones and Lisa Moore, have reportedly been seen since the fire, but the fire marshal’s office hasn’t heard of sightings of the other two, Kerry Davis and Sean Smith, although investigators don’t believe they died in the fire, said Sgt. Ken Grimes of the fire marshal’s office.

“For whatever reason, they either don’t know we’re looking for them, or they don’t wish to talk to us,” Grimes said.

Robin Plourde, Gardiner’s General Assistance director and a member of the fire relief committee, said not all residents were interested in receiving help, but several have found permanent housing elsewhere in Gardiner or the region.

There are a few other fundraisers scheduled or going on in Gardiner, including a spaghetti dinner Aug. 6 at the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Gardiner and an improv comedy show Aug. 7 at Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center.

The silent auction held Friday and Saturday raised $6,800 for the fire relief fund, said Clare Marron, owner of Monkitree, the downtown art galley and shop that hosted the fundraiser. Local artists and some businesses donated 110 items for the auction.

“I was not expecting to have this many pieces donated,” Marron said. “It was really amazing, the outpouring of support from the art community.”

‘AWESOME’ TO BE IN COMMUNITY

The owner of the tattoo studio that had opened earlier this month at 247 Water St. said he’s also been appreciative of the support from the community.

“It’s just really awesome to be part of a community like that,” said owner Chris Flynn. “Usually, as a tattoo artist, you’re kind of seen as an outsider, and to be part of the community, it’s a really great feeling.”

The studio, Touch of Grey Tattoo, plans to reopen in another downtown Gardiner building, but the business still has to raise more money, Flynn said.

Flynn, who lives in Windsor, said he had spent around $15,000 to open the shop in Gardiner, including remodeling costs, and lost another $8,000 worth of tattooing supplies in the fire.

The studio, which has three other employees, has reopened at its former location on Maine Avenue in Farmingdale, but Flynn said he hopes to open in another downtown Gardiner building by Sept. 1. The new space, at 218 Water St. above A Partner in Technology, is owned by the same owner as the building damaged in the fire.

Part of the reason for the move to Gardiner was to have more space for visiting artists to display their work, Flynn said. He plans to operate an art gallery or collective in the space and offer art classes to children or others.

Flynn said he has about $7,000 set aside for the move, which will require redoing the flooring and adding sinks. To do everything he wants to do with the space, it will cost around $15,000, he said.

“I figure I’ll just do it in baby steps, and it will happen,” Flynn said.

The owner of Gerard’s Pizza, Jeff McCormick, didn’t respond to an email request for comment, but Patrick Wright, executive director of Gardiner Main Street, said McCormick plans to reopen in the same space. The answering machine message cleaners were still working in the building Friday.

“The clear message that he wants to get out is that he’s 100 percent sure that Gerard’s will be opening back up,” Wright said last week. “He doesn’t know when yet, but he’s committed to that in that location.”