Fire reduces longtime family-owned business to rubble in North Chicago
By Judy Masterson Sun-Times Media email@example.com August 2, 2012 5:26PM
North Chicago Firefighter Paramedic Joe Knesley of Lake Bluff sprays water on hot spots at Balmes Florists located at 1720 Green Bay Road in North Chicago.The florist celebrated their 60th year in business. | Thomas Delany Jr.~Sun-Times Media
Balmes Flower Shop & Greenhouses, one of North Chicago’s oldest family-owned businesses, was destroyed in a three-alarm fire late Wednesday night.
Peter Balmes said he and his wife Robin were sleeping at about 11:15 p.m. in their home, which was attached to the flower shop at 1720 Green Bay Road, when they were awakened by the sound of “popping.”
“She got up and looked out the window and said “The shop is on fire,” Balmes said. “We got out of the house and called 911.”
Balmes, his son Peter Jr. and two sons-in-laws watched Thursday morning as North Chicago firefighters dampened down a still smoking pile of rubble that was once the flower shop and “head house,” which led into large greenhouse areas, the southern portions of which remain intact. They conjectured that the popping was from exploding cans of aerosol spray paint.
“It’s devastating,” said Balmes, who runs the 60-year-old business with his daughters, Sara Jackson and Keli Krygowski. “We have orders we have to try and get done — three weddings this weekend. We can’t let the brides down.”
Firefighters saved the attached two-story house, where three generations of the Balmes family have been reared, though the structure suffered water damage.
Burned toys, bicycles and a trampoline belonging to six young Balmes grandchildren, who played on the three-acre property while their parents worked, poked through shards and ash. Blackened, drooping plants were visible inside the north-end of the greenhouse. Jackson said the loss, still unestimated, includes all inventory, computers and office equipment.
“But we’re extremely grateful that my parents got out,” Jackson said. “Many nights they have grandchildren and babies staying with them. We’re so thankful that everyone is safe.”
The cause of the fire is under investigation, said a North Chicago Fire Department spokesman, who said the business was “fully-involved” by the time firefigthers arrived, The blaze, which was called in at approximately 11:30 p.m., accelerated after the west-facing shop windows shattered and a wind blew through, said Peter Balmes Jr., who made it to the blaze from his home in Chicago in 29 minutes.
The business was founded in 1952 by Wilfred Balmes, a World War II veteran, and his wife Virginia, who purchased land directly west of the cemetery Northshore Garden of Memories. Grandparents and extended family helped run the flower shop and growing operation over the years.
“We were hoping a fifth generation would run it,” said Jackson who, along with her father, said it was too early to talk about rebuilding.
“We have a very supportive family and we’re sticking together,” Jackson said. “We want to thank the firefighters from all over the county who saved so much of our stuff, and the North Chicago police. We couldn’t have asked for more.”
A house just south of the greenhouses belongs to Mary Anne Grum, Peter Balmes’ sister, who has lived there for 58 years and who also worked for the business. Grum said she and her husband were alerted to the blaze by a group of motorcyclists who roared up to their door. She watched firefighters work to control the conflagration until the wee hours.
“It’s horrible,” Grum said. “It’s like a dream. I’m hoping I wake up.”