RENSSELAER — Though the flames of Sunday’s devastating fire were eventually extinguished, city employees and local businesses were then left to contend with the aftermath.
With their offices destroyed, numerous business owners and employees used to working between Van Rensselaer and Front streets were left scrambling to find space to work.
Maggie Hickman, of the Rensselaer Chamber of Commerce, has been attempting to form a list of available retail spaces for temporary or long-term lease options in the city.
“A lot of the salon services have found temporary homes, and everyone’s kind of figured out the emergency temporary basis,” Hickman said Monday. “But, just long-term on behalf of the chamber, we just want to be able to provide a list of available retail spaces in town, so we can try to retain those businesses as best as we can.”
People who may be aware of other available spaces are encouraged to contact her at 312-468-4952 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Business owners seeking a housing space are encouraged to contact Hickman by the aforementioned methods, or at 219-866-5129.
One business left seeking a new space is Express Employment Professionals. Branch Manager Kim Yeoman and several of her employees were able to work out of the Healthy Haven fitness center Monday, at 114 W. Washington St. The company can still be contacted at 765-430-3984 or at 219-964-4222.
“All of our stuff is on a computer server, so none of our data got lost,” Yeoman said that evening. “We can still operate off our computers. We just lost papers, supplies, hardware and stuff like that.”
Though they’ve found a temporary place from which to work, Yeoman has been looking for a more long-term arrangement.
“We’ve been frantically calling to talk to any business or property owner of a commercial building and reaching out to everybody and saying, ‘Hey, anything you guys have available, let us know,’” she said.
Fortunately, Healthy Haven co-owners Rielle Zeider and Kaylie Black had a little bit of room to spare near the front of their fitness center.
“They’re volunteering their space to us, and that was very nice of them,” Yeoman said.
Yeoman made the request to Black after the fire.
“(I) asked her if we could borrow her spot because I knew they had a big space in here,” Yeoman said. “And she said, ‘Yeah,’ until we find something either more permanent or temporary.”
Though they had an unconventional office setting, Yeoman and her colleagues made it work for them.
“It definitely is a change,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like a real day, a work day, but one day’s fun. I’m sure the rest of it’s not going to be so fun, with chaos and everything. But we’ll get there.”
Yeoman expressed sympathy to those businesses from the mall that may not have been able to find space as quickly.
“We’re very fortunate. I feel bad for a lot of the other businesses that don’t have the opportunity to set back up like we do,” Yeoman said. “I think we’re one of the very few businesses that have had the ability to jump right back into it because our stuff is mostly computerized work.”
Another displaced business is Cutting Room hair salon. Owners, Karen Youngs and Shyla Brown announced Monday they would be temporarily working inside the Renew salon, 112 N. Front St.
The Cutting Room’s owners can still be contacted at the same number, 219-866-3233. They also wished to thank Renew “for their kindness and generosity.”
The Sun Salon will be working at A New Beginning at 217 E. Harrison St.
Dr. Kim Moyer’s Optometry stated that people who had glasses or contacts ready to pick up or on order are encouraged to contact her at 574-946-0777.
Ryan Musch, co-owner of the eMbers Venue, said his establishment was not directly harmed by the fire and, as of Monday, was expected to reopen Wednesday after a final evaluation. He posted updates on the situation to the eMbers Venue Facebook page.
“If any of you lost your business and need private meeting spaces, please message me. Our venue, restaurant and domes are available to you in any capacity when they are available,” Musch stated. “Thank you to all the firefighters who worked so hard to contain the fire. Your efforts saved our little piece of downtown. To the city employees who will continue to work in the debris and elements, thank you for being the best in the business.”
Musch also noted the loss of several prominent interactive murals in the city’s new art walk, which were painted on the walls of the burned building.
As if the displaced businesses from the north end of the block were not enough of a problem, the southern end of the block didn’t fare much better at the start of business Monday. The collapse of the neighboring building had caused a power outage to the rest of the block.
City government employees spent much of that day working to restore power for the latter businesses.
“When the wall fell in, it caught our poles and our wiring on fire in the back,” Mayor Stephen Wood said Monday. “So our guys were there this morning trying to get the debris out of the alley, so the electric trucks could get in there and get those people back in service.”
Power was restored to the southern half of the block by 3 p.m. Monday.
Wood said the “public safety problem” of the remaining structure must be addressed soon.
“We want to get the buildings down,” Wood said Monday. “That’ll all have to be addressed with the property owners and their insurance companies, I would assume.”
Project Manager Jerry Lockridge and Gas Superintendent Carol Lockridge worked, along with others, to address additional related issues.
“We were checking things like the sewers,” Wood said. “We had a problem with some of the sewers. Some debris was going down in it.”
Sunday’s events continue to bring challenges to the city’s leadership. And for the time being, some locals will be relying on the kindness of friends and neighbors before they can find more permanent housing for their business.
“We’ll be excited to get our new home soon,” Yeoman said, “whenever we find one.”