Nine small businesses destroyed in Newburgh blaze
NEWBURGH — It was not the start to Small Business Saturday that owners of shops in Newburgh’s Sharon Place shopping center had hoped for.
By the time the sun came up Saturday morning, the owners of nine businesses there found their stores reduced to smoldering rubble after a three-alarm fire raced through the shopping center located at the intersection of State Street and Sharon Road.
Around 60 firefighters from Newburgh, Chandler, Yankeetown and Ohio Township responded to the fire reported at 2:23 a.m. Saturday and battled the blaze for more than two hours. Assistant Newburgh Fire Chief Chad Bennett said the fire started in the central part of the shopping center and spread wildly throughout the rest of the building.
Crews had difficulty extinguishing the fire since flames had spread to the attic of one store and then crossed the firewall of a neighboring one. Bennett said the central location of the fire when it started made the fire more intense as it spread.
John Erickson, a senior public information officer with the Indiana Fire Marshal’s Office, said Saturday afternoon that investigators will need a couple days to determine the cause of the fire as crews excavate the rubble. He said there did not seem to be any signs that would indicate the fire was of suspicious origin.
“These nine businesses aren’t going to be having a very nice Small Business Saturday,” said Bennett, who called the fire the worse he’s seen in decades. “It’s a total loss for everybody.”
Among the businesses that occupied the shopping center were All Sewn Up, The Rug Gallery, Tan Evolution, Newburgh Learning Center, Make Time to Create, GirlFriends Boutique and Acceptance Capital Mortgage Corp. The center also housed River Ridge Church of Christ and one available space, which was to be leased Saturday to a woman planning to open a Christmas-themed shop called Mistletoe and Ivy.
Town Manager Cynthia Berger arrived at the fire around 3:15 a.m. and after a brief rest at home, spent the majority of Saturday morning talking with fire crews and other officials. She felt saddened by the impact on the local business owners.
“They were all charged up to have a great day, this is the busiest season for them,” she said. “Luckily no one was injured .”
Stan Brown, who runs Ellenton Equities, the company that has owned the Shopping Center for 10 years, was still receiving text messages from the woman Saturday morning asking if the company was going to rebuild as well as calls from shop owners eager to start over again.
“I was in disbelief when I first got here,” said Brown, as he sat in his van Saturday morning awaiting an insurance claims adjuster. “Everyone was jam packed with merchandise.”
Mike Kishline, owner of Rug Gallery, was one of those merchants. He said he had stocked extra merchandise for the holiday season in the tune of $800,000 to $900,000. Kishline has owned the business six years and had been a Sharon Place tenant for two years.
Loyal customers were bombarding Kishline with Facebook posts giving him support on Saturday morning. He said also received many encouraging phone calls, all telling him to rebuild.
“I saw everything I had worked for these past two years just wiped out,” said Kishline, a recent winner of the Tri-State Better Business Bureau’s Torch Award for business ethics. “I knew that I was going to rebuild regardless, but now I have no doubt.”
Kishline also said he received strong support from his rug manufactures in India, who told him they would make sure he comes back stronger when he reopens. Kishline’s insurance company, American Family, pledged its full support.
Despite the devastation, Kishline plans to reopen before Christmas. Ideally he would love to stay in the same location or near downtown Newburgh.
“I will be back somewhere, somehow,” he said.
Bennett said the fire was the largest in Newburgh since November 1993 when the Landing restaurant, at the site of the current Edgewater Grill downtown, burned.