ORANGE – The recent demolition of an iconic sign at Firelite Plaza has sparked a row on social media and accusations that town leaders and developers of the property could have done more to preserve a piece of local history.
The sign stood along the Boston Post Road for 62 years, and was a fond reminder for longtime residents of the town’s past. The developer, 35 Old Tavern Road, LLC, purchased the property in 2018 and demolished the sign earlier this month.
Residents took to Orange-related Facebook groups to share memories of John and Larry Gaetano, the original owners of Firelite Shop and to question why the sign had not been preserved.
“So sad to see the disrespect for the town history by the developer,” wrote one resident. “When I was a child, John owned the beautiful shop where the current liquor store stands. His manufactured brass fireplace items were sold there and buyers came from great distances because of the quality and beauty of the merchandise.”
Dan Baughman, the project manager of Cherry Hill Construction which was hired by the developer, said he had seen the comments on social media, but that the sign was basically unrepairable.
“I actually ran brand new electrical lines underground to accommodate that sign,” Baughman said. “We went in there and investigated and saw that it was in much worse shape than everyone thought.”
Baughman said he considered keeping the sign up regardless, but it turned out to be blocking required access for fire trucks. He said the developer offered the sign to town officials for three years with no luck.
Logistically, Baughman said, the sign was simply too large and in too poor of condition to be preserved.
Asked about the sign, First Selectman James Zeoli recalled a conversation in which the developer asked him if anyone would be interested in keeping it, but he had no idea where it could be stored.
Zeoli said he was aware of complaints directed at the developer and Orange officials, but that he had no ties to, or control over, the property.
“You’ll see the haters coming out in droves, but you won’t see me comment on Facebook,” he said. “That’s not appropriate.”
Ginny Reinhard, president of the Orange Historical Society, responded to questions on Facebook, saying that she was unaware the sign would be taken down and that the society should have been notified.
According to Reinhard, the Historical Society could have found a place to store the sign, but “the powers that run this town saw otherwise.”
After posting these comments, Reinhard told CT Examiner that her town-owned cell phone was shut off in retaliation.
Reinhard she called Verizon on Tuesday morning after text messages to her son-in-law failed to send.
“Verizon has confirmed with Mr. Zeoli that my service has been terminated,” Reinhard told CT Examiner. “Freedom of speech is not free because there are consequences.”
Reinhard said she used the phone to communicate with the police and fire departments about the three buildings that the Historical Society leases and maintains. She explained that she occasionally used it to communicate with family, but because she does not get paid by the town, she felt the phone was a perk.
“I’m really unhappy about what [Zeoli] has done,” Reinhard said. “He could come back with a phone call. He could ream me out. He could swear at me. But he didn’t do it. He did the one thing that he knew would cut me down.”
When asked by CT Examiner if he was involved in terminating Reinhard’s service, Zeoli said he doesn’t approve town-owned phones or pay the bills.
“I don’t see why she needs a cell phone that’s provided by the town,” Zeoli said. “She’s not a town employee or a town member in any way, shape or form. And evidently, her phone is dead. That’s what I’ve heard.”
Zeoli said Reinhard and the Historical Society should be asking the Building Department if they’ve issued demolition permits to the developer instead.
“She’s giving me way more credit and power than I have,” said Zeoli.