Plaza area businesses feel restaurant’s pain

02/20/2013 12:11 PM

05/16/2014 9:13 PM

Country Club Plaza area businesses opened Wednesday on a somber note in the aftermath of Tuesday evening’s fatal natural-gas explosion at JJ’s restaurant.

“We all have a history,” said Ernesto Peralta, co-founder and partner of Blanc Burgers +Bottles on the west side of the Plaza. “We know the bartenders, the cook, the owners.”

Construction shut down Wednesday at the Plaza Vista office and hotel development, formerly known as the West Edge, just across 48th Street from JJ’s. Dave Harrison of VanTrust Real Estate, the developer, said workers were told to stay home so officials could pursue their investigation at the accident site unhindered. Work was expected to resume today.

As for the Plaza Vista itself, Harrison said a preliminary inspection revealed some broken windows on the side of the office building that faced the explosion.

Ann Stokes, 45, of Overland Park was one of the few pedestrians braving the cold Wednesday at Kansas City’s venerable shopping district.

“I’m sad about JJ’s,” she said. “There’s not enough long-standing institutions like that left” in the Plaza area.

Alex McCombs, 33, a Plaza resident, shared her regret.

“It’s been a long-time institution,” he said about JJ’s. “I’m sure it will be missed and I hope they rebuild.”

His friend Jesse Torres, 32, of Kansas City sympathized with those who were injured and their families.

“I know JJ’s was a big hangout for the restaurant community,” Torres said. “It’s a very sad time for a lot of people.”

Merchants near the destroyed JJ’s restaurant in the West Plaza retail strip on Belleview Avenue were cleaning up broken glass from shattered windows Wednesday morning. Those relying on walk-in traffic were closed because the area remained a police investigation scene

“We had a little damage, but not a great deal,” said Joe Montanari of Montanari Fine Art Jewelers. “We’ll be back in good shape once the gas company gets the gas back on.

“When I came in this morning, it was still a crime scene.”

Business at Shelton Travel Services was under way with boards covering the half-dozen storefront windows shattered by the explosion across the street. Owner Mark Ebbitts said cracks also were found in the basement.

“We had a lot of window frames pulled out because of the suction of the blast, and every single door,” he said.

Jim Santilli, owner of Kansas City Upholstery, was in his shop Tuesday, just up the hill from JJ’s.

“We don’t have any building damage, but the windows rattled and bowed in. I could feel it in my chest,” Santilli said.

On Wednesday he could get in and out of his parking lot, but work crews asked him to keep customers away.

“Equipment is queuing up out in front, ready to head down the block — six dump trucks,” Santilli said.

Steve Mingos, a dentist whose offices are immediately across the street from JJ’s in a distinctive log building, said artwork was knocked off the walls, but no windows were broken.

“We were fortunate,” he said. “We had to cancel our patients today though because nobody could get through.”

Mingos said he and his staff smelled the gas late Tuesday afternoon and workers from the gas company arrived at his office about 5 p.m. to check. After inspecting the property, the gas crew said it could find no leak at his building.

“They checked it out and said it was OK,” Mingos said.

In hindsight, he said the staff should have left nonetheless.

“We learned if you can smell gas, you should probably leave,” Mingos said.

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