Firefighters battling a two-alarm blaze in an apartment over an Italian Market bread shop yesterday afternoon found the body of a woman inside.
The woman's name was not released, but Fire Executive Chief Daniel Williams said she was the owner of the House of Bread, the store on the ground floor of 935 S. Ninth Street where the fire occurred.
Fellow merchants in the market said the deceased had to be the woman they knew as "Sunday" Lombardo, the proprietess of the store. Her family had been in South Philadelphia's Italian Market for decades, and she lived upstairs with her teenage daughter.
"Her father used to have the Hello Dolly Bar across the street before they bought the bread store," said Charlie Cannuli, 73, whose father opened a butcher shop in the market before he was born. His family's two meat stores are on either side of the House of Bread.
Cannuli said he called in the fire shortly after 2 p.m., when he and his workers noticed smoke pouring from the three-story building. One of the men was able to free Lombardo's dog, Rocky, from the shop.
Another man, Mario Marsico, 55, said he tried to climb the stairs to Lombardo's apartment but was stopped by flames and intense smoke.
"I felt bad. I wanted to help," Marsico said.
The blaze was still under investigation last night, but police said neither the woman's death nor the fire was under criminal investigation. The causes of the fire and of the woman's death were not immediately determined. She was found on the second floor just after crews had put out a blaze, officials said. The fire escalated to a second alarm before it was declared under control at 3:05 p.m.
One firefighter required treatment for smoke inhalation.
Last night, Elie Klitsch, 48, was sitting in her husband's gift shop, Local Color, a few doors down from the House of Bread, and crying. "We were best friends," she said.
Klitsch said Lombardo was 49, a single mother who had known some rough times but loved her daughter - who was in school at the time of the fire - and could make you laugh. Her parents and a sister were deceased.
Lombardo's daughter was staying with a relative last night, Klitsch said. "She's devastated."
The House of Bread was a location in the last Rocky movie, Klitsch said. Lombardo kept a photograph of herself, her daughter and their dog together with Sylvester Stallone.
Cookie Ciliberti, 41, who works at Betty Ann's Italian Market Florist, said she had run into Lombardo when she went to vote Tuesday.
Lombardo was helping out at the polls, Ciliberti said, and she was looking forward to this weekend's market festival.
On the street yesterday afternoon, as smoke poured out of the building, Klitsch said she and others prayed that "Sunday" wasn't inside."I can't believe she's not going to bust through that door," she said.