Jessica Butz received three calls at 7 a.m. on July 27.
Sound asleep, she ignored the first two. But the third one roused her, and that call turned out to be life-changing.
“And then I noticed it was one of our tenants upstairs and I kinda thought, ‘well, must be important,’ so I answered the phone,” Jessica Butz said.
“Your building’s on fire, you need to get to town,” the tenant yelled.
Jessica called her sister, Ella. The same thing happened — no answer. When she eventually answered, they went straight from bed into their car and raced into town.
“Didn’t think maybe it was a really big fire initially in our minds as we were driving,” Ella said. “But when we got to the pool we could see the spray of water and then our hearts dropped.”
Mainerz was wrecked. The flames engulfed the building and water seeped through every nook and cranny. Windows were broken, doors were busted. Community members surrounded the scene. The building they painstakingly bought years ago, housing two businesses they’ve built, turned into smoke and soot in front of their eyes. They cried.
“We lost everything,” Jessica said. “As far as we know, they will be tearing down the entire building. There may be some supporting walls that they’ll be able to keep.”
The Butz sisters felt very grateful that the Telkwa and Smithers fire departments suppressed the fire quickly, minimizing the potential damage to their Main Street neighbours. Their tenants were unscathed, but the calm after the fire did not last.
They now had no day-to-day business to manage. Despite that, their daily schedule filled up rapidly.
“The minute that happened, we’ve been thrown into huge meetings,” Ella said.
Their daily routine went from waking up and checking their emails to an “overwhelming” schedule dealing with banks, accountants, bylaw inspectors, fire investigators, engineers and building inspectors.
“BV Insurance has been phenomenal,” Ella said. “They took us in, and they just said, ‘girls, we’re here for you, everything will be OK.’”
Currently, Bulkley Valley Insurance does not have an estimate on the damage. The Butzes do not have an exact figure either but they figure it would amount to “half of what the insurance company in Smithers does in a year”.
But business owners are getting back on their feet.
Sedaz Lingerie’s Amy Brandstetter, also affected by this fire, lost all her inventory but hopes to restart her business by October.
“It has put me in a situation where my business will be shut down for two-and-a-half months,” Brandstetter said. “My husband and I own a building across the street from where Sedaz is located, an investment we made eight months into having Sedaz for the idea of future expansion.”
“We did have a plan at the end of December to expand into our building which now will come five months sooner.”
Brandstetter is also having all her inventory shipped in, and she is redoing her online website simultaneously.
“I am very organized, I’m very ambitious, I’m motivated and I am well on my way to reopening. We will be renovating as soon as our tenant has been relocated in her new premises,” she said.
The Butzes also saw this fire as an opportunity to rework their business.
“We kind of think that this might be an opportunity to change our brand slightly. Now that we know what works and what doesn’t so we can kind of work with that,” Jessica said.
“What does mom say? ‘Whenever there’s a grey cloud, there’s a silver lining,’” Ella said.
They found a new location on Fourth Avenue. Situated across from the CIBC, they intend to use it as a temporary location for a year while the Main Street building gets rebuilt.
“Now we’re thinking about starting up the new businesses and everything else,” Ella said.
The building they found wasn’t perfect, the sisters hoped for something on Main Street but their temporary location was the only one they could find in the short amount of time.
Nonetheless, they intend to spruce it up by renovating the building as far as their rental agreement allows them to. That means new floors, new colours, new shelves and new inventory coming in from different parts of the world. They hope to open up the store by late September.