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By Devin Rose
Employees at businesses on the northeast corner of Lake Street and Oak Park Avenue are looking forward to their establishments opening up again in the coming weeks after they were damaged by a fire that also destroyed a gay nightclub on the same corner.
The fire that destroyed the Velvet Rope Ultra Lounge on June 3 was determined to be arson, and Oak Park police continue to investigate the incident.
But the toy store and restaurant on either side of the club are planning re-opening celebrations for the end of this month and next month.
"We're just scrambling to get the store cleaned up — it's almost done," said Eric Masoncup, co-owner of Geppetto's Toy Box, which sustained smoke damage. He said he and his wife, Brandy, have an opening scheduled for June 30, but didn't want to give too much away.
Masoncup said there would be a lot of different events at the opening that they'll announce on their Facebook page but were still sorting out the details.
They're still waiting on some new products to be delivered since some toys were destroyed, but the ones that were removed for cleaning have been returned.
Masoncup said they've "made some changes" to the store but would not go into detail. Instead, he said it would be a surprise.
Cleanup is finished at Flat Top Stir-Fry Grill, which sustained smoke and water damage, said the company's regional manager, Danny Williamson. The restaurant is currently being repainted and the flooring and lighting is being replaced. Williamson said after 15 years in Oak Park, the restaurant has no plans to change operations once it gets back up and running, likely by mid-July.
"We enjoy who we are, we enjoy being part of the community," he said. And similar to Geppetto's, there's already a celebration being planned that will welcome them back.
Williamson is working on a charity event for the restaurant's reopening, offering stir-fried items at lower-than-usual prices. The proceeds will go to a charity designated by the Oak Park Fire Department.
"Those guys did an amazing job," Williamson said about the firefighters. "It could've been much worse."
Anyone that wants information about the re-opening event can visit the restaurant from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. and sign up to receive email updates.
Velvet Rope owner Frank Elliott could not be reached for comment. But according to Facebook comments, he and others were pleased with a recent fundraiser benefiting the club's employees.
More than $3,000 was raised at the June 14 benefit at the Hideaway in Forest Park, according to David Monterosso, the event organizer, who wrote on Velvet's Facebook page. He could not be reached Thursday.
On the event's page the following day, Elliott wrote that he doesn't know where he'd be without the support from friends, loyal patrons and family — "Last night was the first time I actually got to have a true smile (and a few tears too)."