GARDINER — Gerard’s Pizza, with fresh coats of paint and about 80 new floor tiles, opened its doors Monday morning for the first time since a fire gutted the buildings next door more than three weeks ago.

The July 16 fire began in a second floor apartment in the building connected to the restaurant on Water Street, but investigators weren’t able to determine what caused it. The fire spread to the building next door, where a recently opened tattoo studio was located, heavily damaging both buildings.

The two buildings, with four facades on Water Street, have remained closed and largely untouched since the fire. The roof of building where the fire originated, 235 Water St., collapsed during the fire-fighting effort, leaving a large U-shaped hole in back of the building.

But since the fire, the community has raised more $23,000 to support the 12 displaced residents and the businesses affected by the fire. Apart from the tattoo studio that opened in one of the burned-out buildings just two weeks before the blaze and plans to reopen in another downtown building, Gerard’s Pizza was the only business that closed as a result of the fire.

Owner Jeff McCormick said the three-and-a-half weeks the restaurant’s doors closed for cleanup and repairs was the longest time the downtown has been without Gerard’s Pizza since it opened in 1964.

“It wasn’t the uncertainty of whether or not we would reopen — I always knew we were going to — it was the uncertainty of when,” he said while prepping for customers Monday morning. “I think everyone underestimated how much needed to be done.”

A fire wall prevented the fire from spreading to McCormick’s building, but it still sustained water and smoke damage, requiring a cleaning service to clean the interior and floor tiles to be replaced. Because the walls had to be repainted, McCormick used the opportunity to change the interior’s color scheme from a dark green that matched the counter tops and booths to orange and black, the community’s school colors.

While the business was closed, McCormick said he’s been paying his eight employees for the hours they would have worked, even though he doesn’t think his insurance will cover the cost.

“A lot of people, on a business or personal level, aren’t prepared for an event like this,” he said. “I’m very thankful to take care of my employees. They do take care of me, so it felt like the right thing to do.”

On Sunday, half his team was in the restaurant preparing for the week, which McCormick is anticipating to be busier than a typical week.

“Hopefully, when lunchtime comes around, I think we’re gonna be ready for it,” he said. “I think we’ll be ready to handle anything.”

McCormick, who lives in Whitefield, said there has been an amazing amount of feedback from people on Facebook saying they missed the restaurant and support from people in the community holding fundraisers for fire relief efforts.

Community members are also giving back to the nearly 100 firefighters who helped fight the fire by serving them a free meal Thursday night at an outdoor concert. The 6 p.m. concert, featuring bluegrass and rock band Tricky Britches, is part of the Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center’s free outdoor concert series at the Waterfront Park. After firefighters are served, organizers will sell hot dogs, hamburgers and pizza to the public to raise money for the fire relief fund.

Three fighters suffered minor injuries while fighting the fire when a partial roof collapse caused bricks to fall from the fourth floor of the apartment building. One resident, Troy Bowden, 46, was transported to Maine General Medical Center on the evening of the fire for smoke inhalation and was treated and released that same day, according to a release from the Office of the State Fire Marshal.

Sgt. Ken Grimes said in the release Monday that the fire began in Bowden’s second floor apartment, but the investigation ended without determining a cause because of the extent of the damage.

Initially, investigators were concerned that two people were in the building, but they determined that wasn’t the case after examining the building. Two residents still haven’t been interviewed by investigators, but it appears they weren’t in the building at the time of the fire, even though they have yet to respond to investigators, Grimes said in the release. Grimes didn’t respond to a phone call for additional information about the investigation.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

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Twitter: @pdkoenig