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Forest lakes couple trying to rebuild
3/7/2008 By: Carole McWilliams
Eric and Kay Kiesel of Forest Lakes are trying to figure out how to keep their T-shirt and embroidery business going after their store, Half Price Tees, was destroyed in the downtown Durango fire
SPRING MOOOOVING FORWARD
One of Jewell LePlatt's hereford calves enjoys a spring day Tuesday off CR 501. Temperatures are forecast to rocket into the 50's this week!
on Feb. 22.
They bought the business and moved here from Chicago in 2004.
They were getting out of the rat race, Eric told the Times this week. He and Kay were there Tuesday getting some things out of the basement. It didn’t burn, but there was a lot of water damage.
Some Durango Fire & Rescue representatives were there, along with two federal fire investigators. A crane worked from Main Avenue lifting big sections of the vent and ductwork – where the fire is thought to have started - out of Seasons Restaurant.
The Kiesels were alone in their store when the fire started. It had been a slow business day. Their manager was home sick. They had just started eating lunch.
Eric said a meter reader came in and told them there was a lot of smoke coming out of the ductwork at Seasons and “you may want to get out of the building.”
He continued, “I came out and ran up on the deck (the back alley is about level with the roof of the burned businesses) and saw a large amount of smoke coming out of the ductwork that ran along the common wall toward the front of the building.”
The fans were in back, and the actual exhaust openings were toward the front, and that’s where the smoke was, he said.
“I only saw smoke, so I went back in my building to see if any smoke was coming in. I didn’t see anything. I came out again to check and saw actual flames coming out of the ductwork,” he said.
He heard sirens. He went onto Main Avenue to talk to firefighters. Smoke was starting to fill the T-shirt shop. Firefighters made them leave the building.
He went out back to help Atmos Energy employees try to dig out the gas meter under about five feet of snow, to shut off the gas. He heard firemen on the roof trying to cut a hole by the wall between their shop and Seasons, to shoot water in.
The area behind the building got too smoky, and the people digging for the gas meter had to leave, he said. He was out front on Main Avenue when Le Rendezvous exploded. The T-shirt shop is between Seasons and Le Rendezvous.
The Kiesels lost pretty much everything on the main floor. They got some data and records out, Eric said.
Kay said they didn’t get any of their equipment out during the fire.
“We didn’t think it was going to be that bad,” she said. “I went in my basement and got my purse. Eric was helping them dig out. Then (the store) was enveloped in smoke and fire. I had just finished embroidering 30 shirts and people’s Carhartts. And hats. Things we have to reimburse people for.”
But she added, “If (the fire) was going to happen, it probably couldn’t be a better time. We didn’t have a lot of inventory. Not a lot of tourists. No employees there.”
They have three employees during the slow seasons, and 10 in the summer, she said.
As for what they are going to do now, Eric said, “My goal would be to find another (retail) spot, but that’s an expensive proposition on Main Avenue. If I can’t do that, I might move off Main Avenue and do custom embroidery and silk screening.”
He added, “We’ll come back in some shape and form. I like it here.”
Kay said, “I have my days, sometimes I feel really sad and devastated. I’m trying to stay positive and hopeful. Our clients keep calling us. We have to keep working, which is good because it’s very therapeutic.”
For now, they are setting up in their house.
“We can work from home, but it’s not our choice,” Kay said. “We are about the community. We serve the community.”
Part of their business is from tourists, but a lot of it is for local businesses and organizations. Kay listed several clients from Bayfield and Vallecito.
“We have a good client base, and we really care about that,” Kay said.
She thanked all the people and organizations that have helped them with financial support, meals, and prayers. “We are so appreciative. Community really makes a difference. And the food has been really good.”
Kay said she and Eric are relying on their faith during the emotional ups and downs and the financial uncertainty they are facing with their two children.
They go to the Bayfield Christian Church on County Road 509. “We believe everything happens for a reason,” Kay said. “We have to trust in our faith and God, that He will provide for us. … We know God is in control, and He may take us down a road we aren’t expecting. He already has.”
She continued, “A lot of time, people say it takes perseverance, but it’s your faith that gets you through really difficult times like now.”
The Kiesels were to meet the next day with commercial insurance adjusters brought in from Arizona. They didn’t know if their loss of income coverage would be affected if they keep working.
Kay worried, “They may say we can’t earn any money. If that happens, our clients go away. I’m scared.”
She said she now finds herself a lot more sympathetic and understanding of what people are going through after a tragedy or a natural disaster, like what Hurricane Katrina did to New Orleans.
“Maybe that’s the reason (this happened), to give me a more sympathetic, understanding heart,” she said.
The 700 Main Avenue Disaster Relief Fund is assisting all the businesses and their employees affected by the fire. Donations can be made at any location of First National Bank of Durango. Another fund at Pine River Valley Bank in Bayfield and Durango was set up specifically to help the Kiesels.
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