November 15, 2013

Fans of Colucci’s delighted as post-arson repairs begin

The popular store on Portland's Munjoy Hill, damaged by an arson fire in March, will reopen under new ownership.

By J. Craig Anderson
Staff Writer

Renovation work has begun on a popular Munjoy Hill convenience store and deli that was shuttered in March after an arsonist set the building on fire.

click image to enlarge

Framed by a large excavator, workers wait for a plumber to install the feed from the water main for sprinklers that will be installed throughout Colucci’s Hilltop Superette at 135 Congress St. The building, damaged by an arson fire in March, has Colucci’s on the ground floor and three upper-floor apartments.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

The city of Portland’s inspections division approved a building permit Oct. 30 to Congress 135 Market LLC to “rehabilitate and renovate” Colucci’s Hilltop Superette at 135 Congress St.

The renovation work began Tuesday. According to documents filed with the city, the renovation is expected to cost $300,000.

Property owner William Simpson did not return calls Thursday seeking an estimated date for the store’s reopening. A hand-painted sign put up in July in the store’s windows says Colucci’s would reopen this fall, but local workers said the renovation effort is likely to take longer than that.

Residents and workers on Munjoy Hill in eastern Portland said they were looking forward to the reopening and hoped Colucci’s would not change too much under its new ownership.

“I liked everything about the old Colucci’s,” said 24-year-old Munjoy Hill resident Marisa Crommett. “I like that it had a little bit of everything.”

Simpson agreed in July to purchase the fire-damaged building, which consists of Colucci’s on the ground floor and three upper-floor apartment units, for an undisclosed amount. According to the Portland Assessor’s Office, the property’s assessed value for tax purposes as of April was $256,900.

Simpson also owns Portland-based Class Acts Management, which owns and manages apartment properties. He has told local media outlets that he plans to operate Colucci’s in a manner similar to its previous owners.

Former store co-owner Dickie Colucci was one of nine people living in the apartments above Colucci’s when police say 24-year-old Portland resident and illegal immigrant Elroy Montes-Lopez entered the building in the early morning on March 9 and set fire to a common-area closet on the second floor.

Colucci and the other residents escaped unharmed, but their homes were destroyed and the store suffered severe smoke and water damage. Two pet cats and a dog were killed in the fire.

Montes-Lopez accepted a plea bargain and currently is serving a 250-day sentence for aggravated criminal mischief, according to a city spokeswoman. He also is scheduled for deportation upon completion of his sentence, she said.

Colucci could not be reached for comment Thursday. He initially had planned to reopen the store himself but ultimately decided to sell it to Simpson.

For decades, Colucci’s has been a frequent destination for many residents and workers on Munjoy Hill.

“It became kind of a routine for us,” said Melissa DeMerchant, who works nearby in the city’s Recreation Department. “We all go there quite a bit.”

DeMerchant said she and her co-workers were happy to learn that renovations had begun.

“I think we all are excited,” she said.

Fortunately for Colucci’s, the store is located directly across from a fire station.

Firefighter Adam Royer said Thursday that he began his morning shift on March 9 by helping to relieve the crew that had put out the blaze. There was still a lot of damage-control and cleanup work to do, Royer said.

“It was not a good morning,” he said.

Royer said the firefighters have missed stopping by the store for coffee and a chat in the mornings.

“Even though you were here at work, you kind of felt at home,” he said.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

Twitter: @jcraiganderson


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