Flames caused by faulty wiring physically consumed Hot Stuff on Broadway last year, but they couldn’t melt through the spirit of the place.
“There wasn’t any question — we weren’t going down like that,” the gift boutique's owner Barbara D’Allessandro, 59, said, noting that her only question after the fire was how fast she could get back in business.
Hot Stuff burned on Nov. 9, 2018, and reconstruction took longer than she’d hoped, but it will be open again just more than a year later on Nov. 16, in time to entice holiday shoppers who couldn’t get what they wanted last year, D’Allessandro said.
“Most of the racks were destroyed, and I’m having to get used to the idea that things don’t all have to go back exactly the way they were before,” she said, noting that the signature pink color on the walls has been kept the same — a symbolic welcome sign for the gay community, which originally used the color before the rainbow became popular.
D’Allessandro’s brother, Tony, first opened Hot Stuff on Broadway in 1980. She began working there, too, and took over after his death from HIV/AIDS in 1997. She said Tony and his partner, who also passed away, named the business Hot Stuff because they liked a Donna Summer song with that same name.
Always, Hot Stuff has been more than a business to the D’Allessandros. It, and surrounding businesses on Broadway, back in the 1980s and still today — created a unique haven for the gay community to feel safe shopping and dining, she said.
Missing that community for the past year was the hardest thing about the damage caused by the fire, she said with watery eyes.
“This has always been a safe environment for gays and lesbians to shop,” she said. “I’ve never, in 40 years, been without Hot Stuff … It’s been emotionally difficult to be without all the regulars who come here. Lifelong friendships have been established here — there are a lot of memories and people who have come and gone.”
D’Allessandro said Broadway, which has rainbow-colored crosswalks, continues to be a safe place for the LGBTQ community, even though many of the businesses have changed over the past four decades.
“This place brings the community together, to meet, face-to-face, not just online,” she said, noting that the store will host special in-house events like puzzle nights and painting sessions for groups to gather once it’s fully operational.
She did note, however, that she’s been closed throughout the construction work that took place over the past year on Broadway, and she said she hopes that her business won’t be negatively impacted by the recent “road diet” — changes to the parking configuration and added bike lanes — that have slowed down transactions for some other shopkeepers in the area.
At Hot Java next door, the coffeehouse co-owner Ken Davis emphasized how much Broadway needs Hot Stuff, especially with foot traffic down since the “road diet.”
“We are thrilled for Barbara and the community that Hot Stuff is coming back,” Davis said. “This community needed to have such an iconic business reopen after the tragedy of that fire. We’ve been counting the days.”
He called D’Allessandro “magic” and said the way she has honored her brother’s memory with the way she runs the store is something everyone can and should support.
“We need Hot Stuff on this block,” he said.
Before she reopens this month, D’Allessandro is still sorting through what little merchandise could be salvaged, some of it slightly damaged, with plans to sell that in a small section of the store she’s calling the “fire survivors” sale. Everything else — including the store’s popular, often risqué greeting cards and the store’s adult section promoting safe sex — are being completely rebuilt and restocked.
“I’m really excited this is finally happening and I’ve got the keys,” she said this week while loading in some new shelves.
Hot Stuff is located at 2121 E. Broadway.