Garrettsville community bands together after downtown fire (with gallery, video)

By Jeremy Nobile and Kyle McDonaldStaff Writers Published:

Two days after a massive fire leveled an entire business block on Main Street in downtown Garrettsville, the community is banding together to overcome the tragedy.

"A good boxer can really throw some punches, but a great boxer knows how to take one, and I think the people of Garrettsville are like that. They're willing to take a punch and come right back," said Mike Maschek, owner and developer of the 1850s-era Buckeye Building that erupted in flames Saturday afternoon, devouring 13 businesses including his own.

Jeff Koehn, an arson investigator with the State Fire Marshal, said Monday it could still be a couple weeks before a cause is officially determined.

He noted some roofers were doing hot-seal roof work around the time the fire began, but it's unclear yet whether that truly sparked the fire.

Koehn said criminal behavior has been ruled out, however.

He said the old, mostly wooden buildings connected at the facades combined with a collective lack of sprinkler or suppression systems and the absence of fire walls contributed to the blaze's rapid spread.

"Even though the fire department was here right away, it just got a good jump on them," he said.

Mayor Rick Patrick said numerous individuals, organizations and government officials, including Gov. John Kasich, have reached out to offer whatever assistance they can.

"The outcry of the public has just been phenomenal. The way the community's pulling together in this situation is just great," he said Monday.

Several fundraising efforts are already established that are being funneled through the Garrettsville Area Chamber of Commerce to ensure that funds are sent where they're needed.

"It's important that everybody know that in an effort to protect the area businesses, business owners and residents, the Village of Garrettsville and the chamber of commerce are working together," Chamber President Benjamin Coll said. He noted that a list of verified fundraising efforts is hosted on the chamber's website at http://garrettsvillearea.com/how-can-i-help.html. Interested volunteers can contact the chamber's secretary, Michelle Zivoder, at 330-527-5761.

Coll said helping to reestablish the Nelson-Garrettsville Community Cupboard, which serves 100 families per month, is the most immediate priority.

"We have a number of people making food donations across the area to get the Nelson-Garrettsville Community Cupboard back on its feet," he said.

Residents of the northern Portage County village of about 2,300 continued to trickle down Main Street on Monday. Many snapped photos and exchanged memories of the downtown block.

Meanwhile, business owners met with insurance agents and fire investigators throughout the morning, surveying blackened rubble as light snow fell upon piles of water-logged debris now coated with icicles.

Kim DelTorto, co-owner of The Chic & Shabby Resale shop -- a family-owned home decor and consignment destroyed in the Main Street fire -- worked despite a haze of disbelief. She collected salvageable furniture from the store, which was among the last stores to which fire spread.

She recounted how her father, Bruce Steele, purchased the space about seven years ago. Steele opened the store, his "dream space," she said, as a way to keep busy and "tinker" in his retirement. The family invested thousands of dollars in renovating the building over the years.

She estimated maybe one-sixteenth of their inventory was saved.

"But I think the space meant more to us than the stuff," she said. "We're sad the store is gone. My parents are in shock. It still feels unreal."

"You just hate to see a historic place go down like this," said Gary Martin, who has lived in Garrettsville for nearly 30 years. "And it's going to affect the local economy, those businesses and the people who worked for them. It's going to do a lot to the village economically and even mood wise down the road."

Stephanie Dietelbach, owner of One Real Peach, said her business was a total loss.

"I didn't have much to start with, but I did anyway," she said. "And now, I really have nothing. But, I'll move forward. We all have no option but to move forward."

She's operated her business for more than a year, but said when she first saw her building about a dozen years ago, she felt a "spiritual connection" with it and knew "it would be mine someday."

Dietelbach said she's "more committed than ever" to rebuilding and reopening in Garrettsville.

"We just have to look at a new beginning, start a new chapter, and make new memories," she said.

For Maschek, the hardest part of watching his building burn was his lost investment along with that of the business owners' as well as the building's history.

"That's where (U.S. presidents) James Garfield and William McKinley spoke, and there's just a lot of history in there with minstrels they had, town meetings, plays and stuff like that," he said, referring to the second floor theater hall, which was targeted for restoration.

And, though history and livelihoods were engulfed in flames, Maschek said he's glad nobody was seriously injured.

"There were people inside, but nobody got hurt, and that's what's important. Buildings, you can replace, people, you can't, and I'm just glad that everybody's OK," he said.

Two firefighters from the nearly 40 responding departments were treated for smoke inhalation, and released from the hospital, Fire Chief Dave Friess said Sunday.

According to Portage County Auditor's Office property records, the buildings lost or damaged in Saturday's fire were appraised at slightly more than $457,000 as of July 2012. That total does not include improvements done since July 2012 or any inventory carried by the businesses that was damaged or destroyed.

That information will be part of the grand total in losses as determined by insurance adjusters and the fire investigation, Friess said Sunday.

U.S. Congressman David Joyce issued a statement Monday that he is also committed to assisting Garrettsville.

"I'm deeply saddened to hear about the fire that destroyed an entire block of Garrettsville's downtown Main Street on Saturday," said Joyce. "My staff and I are actively following the latest details and stand ready to assist the people of Garrettsville. We've already been in touch with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Small Business Administration to see how we might be able to work together and provide resources."

While the fire remains under investigation, the mayor has said the village is committed to moving forward and rebuilding what it has lost, while maintaining its historic charm.

"There's no doubt in my mind," Patrick said. "This is a strong community. We'll never be able to replace the historic part of it, but at least we will try to make it look as close to it and blend it into the rest of town that's left."

Contact McDonald at 330-298-1127 or kmcdonald@recordpub.com

Facebook: Kyle McDonald, Record-Courier

Twitter: KyleMcDonald_RC

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