CLARKSBURG, W.Va. — A week after fire devastated a long-time local business, Nicole Viglianco Romano vividly remembers seeing her family’s beloved store, North Pole Ice Company, up in flames.
Romano left for the day around 3:30 in the afternoon on Aug. 13 and was making dinner for her children when she received a call that North Pole Ice was on fire.
“I was like, ‘Ha Ha,’ and he was like, ‘No seriously, it’s on fire.’ I just ran out the door and said I got to go,” she said. “I get down there, and the whole inside is engulfed in flames and the back’s on fire. I try to go inside and get stuff out, and they were trying to take me out of it. It was just, it was awful.”
It was only a matter of hours before Romano had to leave the scene, heartbroken of their loss.
“About 8 o’clock or so, I couldn’t take it anymore. I needed to go home,” she said.
Romano’s uncle, Billy Viglianco, who formerly owned the store with her father Bobby, who passed in April, was out of town, vacationing at the beach with his grandchildren when he heard the news.
“I didn’t think it would be very serious at first. I thought the fire department would get it out and everything would be good,” Viglianco said. “I didn’t have any idea it would be a total disaster.”
North Pole Ice Company celebrated 90 years in business this year, with its opening pre-dating the Great Depression in 1928.
“My grandfather and his brother Andy tried to put it at 108 West Pike, where a related family business is located now, Elite Cleaners, but the city officials wouldn’t give them a permit to build an ice company at that location,” Viglianco said.
Though Viglianco doesn’t know the exact reason for the permit denial, he does have a passed down family theory.
“Maybe because they were immigrants, and there was a prejudice at that time,” he said. “They went back and approached them again, and they did give them a permit but that’s because it was off the main business district on Monticello, they gave them the permit to build the ice company.”
At that time, the company only sold ice, mainly in large block form before later adding the packaged, bagged ice that North Pole Ice would become known for.
“It was delivered door-to-door to ice boxes before the era of refrigerators,” Viglianco said. “They had good business with the railroad back then because they had no refrigerated railroad cars at that time.”
While refrigerators were invented at the time, Viglianco said they were not ubiquitous in every household until after World War II had ended.
Smaller North Pole Ice Companies then began to pop up throughout the region, expanding the store’s reach and name recognition even further.
“They were all run by family members, but they were owned separately,” Viglianco said. “Some of them went out of business early, but most of them did the more modern thing of delivery packaged ice to other convenience stores and supermarkets.”
By the 90s, the store on Monticello Avenue was the only North Pole delivering ice within 100 miles of Clarksburg, he said.
Today, however, the ice business is no longer a part of the 90-year-old company.
“We’re not in the ice business anymore. We sold the ice business in 2011,” Viglianco. “We just kept the same corporate name because it’s a well-known name, and Nicole continued to operate the convenience store part of it.”
Although Romano has been involved in the family business since childhood, but it wasn’t until adulthood that she took on a much larger role.
“My dad had me there as a kid, scrubbing floors to cleaning windows to you name it, he had me doing it,” she said. “Recently, I ran it for him. He had gotten sick, and I took over for him. When passed away, he left it to me, so I did everything.”
Romano still considers her father’s wishes in running the business, which is why it didn’t take her long to announce she would be rebuilding the store.
“My dad would not have wanted this. He would want me to rebuild,” she said. “He would’ve actually been down there now with the bulldozer doing something. That’s how my dad was, and I’m going to do what he’d want me to do.”
In fact, Romano said she’s hoping to start that process this week, despite still waiting to hear from fire officials about the cause of the blaze.
“We’re unsure still,” she said. “We’re waiting on answers. Hopefully we’ll get some soon.”
But luckily, Romano said, when tragedy hits a family business, you have your family to lean on for support.
“Family’s wonderful,” she said. “They’ve been there to help with everything through this devastating time for us.”