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Jim Vaiknoras/Staff photo The Whistle Stop strip mall is being redone after a devastating fire in February.

NEWBURYPORT — Eight months after a cigarette caused the fire that tore through the Whistle Stop Market at the Route 1 traffic circle, the owner is completely overhauling the gutted building, and a new business is moving in.

"Something had to be done," owner Joe Jutras said. "The firefighters put holes in the roof; half the windows were smashed. So I put in a new roof, and next I'm installing new windows and siding."

Jutras has been hard at work, restoring the former Whistle Stop Market and Deli, which was destroyed by a four-alarm fire on the evening of February 11.

"Basically, the building had to be gutted completely," Jutras said. "The Whistle Stop was a complete loss. There was relatively little damage actually caused by the fire, but the smoke damage ruined everything."

Adjacent businesses in the strip mall — Minuteman Press, a self-serve laundromat and JW Salon — experienced minimal to no damage and were able to stay open after the fire.

"We had to close our building for a week, but luckily we were able to transfer business to a remote location and were up and running within 24 hours," Sumner Misenheimer, owner of neighboring Minuteman Press, said. "Through the much-appreciated cooperation with the Chamber of Commerce, they helped spread the word that the remaining businesses were still open. They helped keep us up and running."

Jutras bought the building two years ago from his father, who built it and owned it for 20 years.

"I helped my dad run it for 10 years, and during that time, there were virtually no vacancies," Jutras said, noting the convenient location to Route 1. "There will always be someone that wants to get in there and try something — I'm confident of that."

Newburyport native Laura Valme, who was a hairdresser at Tease Salon in Newburyport for over 10 years, is one of those people.

She, along with two friends, Courtney Bridgewater of Plum Island and Faith Drawn of Ipswich, will be opening Fresh Hair Studio in the plaza. After scouting out spots downtown, which had either no parking or high rent, the trio decided to look elsewhere.

"We definitely wanted to stay in Newburyport," Valme said. "We have lots of clients in Newburyport."

The trio decided on the building that housed the former JW Salon. Valme and her co-workers are currently in the process of redoing the inside of the salon, which wasn't as badly affected by the fire as the neighboring Whistle Stop Market.

"The area we're going into only had smoke damage. Plus, the rent is reasonable, there is plenty of parking, and the landlord is redoing the whole building," Valme said. "With the economy the way it is, it's nice to have a new business in the area."

Fresh Hair Salon is slated to open Nov. 15 and will feature stylists, an esthetician and a nail technician.

"We certainly welcome the new salon; they're an energetic group," Misenheimer said. "If there's one positive that could have come out of that fire, it's that the building is getting a whole new face-lift."

Jutras said there are no definite plans for the former Whistle Stop Market, but is certain that his efforts will attract a business soon enough.

"It's probably been an eyesore for a while," Jutras said. "But I promise, it will start to sparkle soon."

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