Rebuilding from the rubble: Business owners assess the fire damage and try to move forward
One stretch of Perham's business district is now indiscriminate rubble. After a blaze leveled Sud's Tavern and Make Me Wine and smoke damage has temporarily closed Masterpiece Vapor and Level iii, it's now time for business owners to assess the damage and attempt to move on.
Early in the morning on Sunday, Dec. 23, 45 to 50 firefighters from Perham, New York Mills, Vergas, Frazee and Detroit Lakes battled the blaze that brought an estimated $800,000 in losses according to the Fergus Falls Daily Journal.
Perham Fire Chief Mark Schmidt said "everyone's got their due diligence to go through." The fire marshal has been on scene and completed a walkthrough. But answers and insurance payouts won't come quickly. A spokesperson for the State Fire Marshal Division said completing an investigation and closing a report can take months.
Make Me Wine owner Mary Roberts has been deeply rooted in Perham since her store opened in June 2010. "Part of me is missing. It's pretty deep," Roberts said. After making wine at home as a hobby for four years, Roberts opened the store, stocking it with winemaking and beer brewing supplies as well as gift items for fans of food, beer and wine.
Mary's husband, DuWayne, said it's truly a loss for Perham. "One of the things that a lot of people don't understand about her business is that she truly was a destination store," DuWayne said. "People driving from Grand Forks, Bemidji, New Ulm, Wahpeton, Valley City, they would all come to Perham specifically to shop her store."
The Robert's are still grappling with the loss and said it's too early to tell what they'll do next. "We've just been focusing on getting through the holidays and not worrying about the pile of debris we're responsible for in the center of the city," DuWayne said.
Mary has felt an outpouring of support through Facebook, text messages and emails all the way from loyal customers to those who walked in off the sidewalk.
Mary said she's grieving over losing her connection to her customers. "All my customers came in as customers and became my friends," Mary said. "They're my family." Mary said all five of her employees started as customers but became her best friends as they worked for her. "That's where my tears are for. It's not only for a building that's burnt; it's for all the people I'm going to miss seeing."
Mary's computer with all her family photos and wine recipes was also destroyed in the fire. "My computer was my life. I had everything in there." A backup drive was in a safe that can't be located underneath all the rubble. "All my recipes that I've been making for 14 years are not recipes that I took off the internet," she said. "They're my signature recipes that I invented and created myself."
Mary said all she can ask her customers to help is to keep brewing homemade wine. "Keep sharing the love," Mary said. "That's what it was about. I made this and I'm going to give you this. My favorite thing was being able to share something I made."
Pat Honer, owner of Sud's Tavern, said he's waiting on insurance, but if everything works out right, he plans on rebuilding in the same location. But a rebuild could take at least a year, so in the meantime Honer is already working on a temporary bar in the basement of a building he owns on W Main Street and SW Second Avenue.
"I don't want to lose customers and bartenders," Honer said. The space was a bar once and only needs a little remodeling, according to Honer. "I've got old tables and old chairs, hopefully it doesn't look a rummage sale down there."
Mary said her heart goes out to Honer. "They're in as bad as shape as we're in. It wasn't just one loss to the community, it was two," she said. "He has his regular customers. That was their home away from home."
"It's almost a home away from home for me," Honer said. "I went there every day in the afternoon and evening. Now I walk around the house in circles."
Honer opened Sud's Tavern in 1999 after working at Tuffy's for 13 years. "A lot of Tuffy's people backed me for a long time," Honer said. "I bit off more than I could chew, and I was hurting." After six months, Honer told his wife he was going to have to go to Tuffy's and get his job back, but he held on and weathered the storm for almost 20 years.
Honer planned on running Sud's for another six years before calling it quits. "I can't afford to retire," Honer said. "No one's going to give me money for a burnt out basement."
Honer said his phone has been ringing off the hook with people reaching out to help any way they can, but right now it's a standstill. "Twenty inches of snow didn't help," Honer said.
"I want to tell my customers I appreciate all of them, and I want them back," Honer said. "I appreciate my employees, and I want to pay them."
Jen Hoban, owner of Masterpiece Vapors, said it's hard to say when they will reopen, as they're still gaining a full assessment of the damages, but they're extremely fortunate to have been spared from the flames. "The brick wall between our store and Sud's and the firefighters are what saved Masterpiece from burning," Hoban said. "Nothing inside our store burned, but the building has suffered some smoke and water damage." Smoke damage restoration is already underway, and a successful outcome is promising, according to ServiceMaster.
Hoban credits Perham resident Robby Olson for greatly reducing the smoke damage in the store. Robby and his wife, Tanassa along with helping hands arrived Sunday morning to prop the door open and relieve smoke damage as well as packing up supplies.
Hoban extends her gratitude to all the firefighters and emergency responders who contained the fire and was able to save the other businesses on the block. "Our hearts are with Pat and Mary and their families. They've suffered an incredible loss. Our situation is nothing compared to theirs. Their businesses will be greatly missed by many and we will miss our neighbors being there every day."