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Structural concerns close Bernhardt Hardware

By Steve Huffman
shuffman@salisburypost.com
Firefighters worried that a back wall of one of downtown Salisbury’s more recognizable buildings was in danger of collapse Tuesday night.
But Paul Bernhardt, the owner of Bernhardt Hardware Co., said he thought the problem involved little more than a leaking roof and said he hopes to have the business reopened soon.
“Personally, I don’t see how there could be any structural damage, but that’ll be up to the engineer to decide,” Bernhardt said. His store is at 113 N. Main St.
Firefighters roped off the sidewalk and parking lot around the building late Tuesday, making sure pedestrians and motorists couldn’t get close.
The problem started Tuesday afternoon when a customer in the hardware store heard a cracking noise and water was discovered pouring in the building.
About 2 inches of rain fell on Salisbury Tuesday.
Bernhardt said there were no injuries and said no merchandise was even damaged by the water. He wondered if a gutter was clogged, allowing the rain to accumulate on the roof and cause a leak.
Bernhardt said the building was built in the 1880s and constructed of the type timber not used in more modern structures.
“It’s a very substantial building,” he said.
But Bernhardt agreed with firefighters that the business ought to remain closed until a structural engineer can assess the damage. He said the engineer should be at the property this morning.
Behind the building, firefighters and administrators with the Salisbury Fire Department assessed the situation about 6 p.m. Tuesday.
“We’re not going to allow anyone in until the roof is stabilized and the building is evaluated by a structural engineer,” said Salisbury Fire Chief Bob Parnell.
While he was eyeing the building, Parnell asked a firefighter who’d been inside if a catastrophic collapse was a possibility.
“That corner could go,” the firefighter replied, motioning toward the building’s northeast edge where a crack in the bricks is evident.
An alley beside the building was also blocked Tuesday. Parnell said that if the hardware store’s northeast corner were to fall, about 12-to-15 feet of the structure could collapse into the alley.
Bernhardt said he didn’t think there was a risk of that. He said the crack that Parnell and other firefighters were referring to had been there at least 30 years.
The corner is sound, Bernhardt said.
Electricity to the building was cut Tuesday night to make sure no live power lines came in contact with water.
Bernhardt said the irony was that he’d been in the process earlier Tuesday of contacting a roofing company to see about having the roof replaced.
“It’s an old building and an old roof,” he said. “You’re going to have problems.”
Parnell agreed that the building seemed stable Tuesday evening, but said additional rain overnight and today could make the problem worse.
“Another 2 inches of rain could be harmful,” he said.

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