Days after a fire set off swirling smoke and emotions, several shell-shocked business owners are left to pick up the pieces - if that's even possible. Shortly after 6?p.m. Tuesday, fire broke out in the basement of 11 E. Gay St., closing down three businesses: Sugardaddy's Sumptuous Sweeties, the Robert Mason Co. stationery shop and Sprint Preferred Wireless.
Days after a fire set off swirling smoke and emotions, several shell-shocked business owners are left to pick up the pieces - if that's even possible.
Shortly after 6 p.m. Tuesday, fire broke out in the basement of 11 E. Gay St., closing down three businesses: Sugardaddy's Sumptuous Sweeties, the Robert Mason Co. stationery shop and Sprint Preferred Wireless.
Of the three, the Robert Mason shop has the longest road to recovery.
"We're out of business for a while," said Robert Mason owner Robert Grimmett. "It's 100 percent loss. Our shipping was in the basement of the building, and my inventory is gone."
The blaze was an electrical fire, sparked by old wiring running through the floor joists, said Tom Fortin, whose real-estate investment company owns the building. Most of the damage was to the floor, electrical wiring, foyer and two restrooms.
Damage estimates were not available yesterday.
The view from the street is deceiving.
"Inside, it's like a body lying there," Grimmett said. "It's like a death. It hurts a lot.
"I've learned how damaging smoke is because it's heated. It's 600 degrees of smoke. Everything's melted."
Still, some good fortune came into play. "The bright side is that Robert Mason isn't where Sugardaddy's is," Grimmett said, "because the paper and other inventory would have been like kindling."
Insurance will not be able to cover all of the losses at his shop, Grimmett said, adding that his insurance company has been good about explaining the process.
Small businesses such as Robert Mason tend to be vulnerable because of that coverage issue, said Larry Mead, principal at Worthington Partners, a management-consulting firm.
"Most small companies don't survive these sorts of things," Mead said. "If they can't get insurance paid off in six to nine months, few companies have enough cash flow to survive these kinds of disasters."
Robert Mason is also vulnerable because Grimmett and his small staff wear so many hats, Mead said.
"I find few owners ever really read their insurance policy," Mead said. "When disaster happens, it's the worst of times to find out what's covered. This process takes a lot more time than you think or hope it will."
Sugardaddy's is in better shape. While a reopening date for the gourmet brownie shop is up in the air, the company has another retail location in the Polaris area and an online store, both of which remain open, said Lisa Anglim, co-owner of Sugardaddy's.
Although "it takes the Downtown store to make the numbers work," insurance should cover the loss of property and income until the company can rebuild, she said. Even so, "I've had better days. I won't lie," Anglim said the day after the fire. "But we're doing OK."
The Sprint store is in the best situation, not only because the damage there wasn't as great but also because it is part of a group of stores. The shop, owned by the Preferred Wireless company, plans to reopen "as soon as possible," said owners Bill Cashman and Bill Kilgore in an email. "We currently have signs in the window directing customers to our four nearest sales and service locations."
The secondary locations for Sugardaddy's and Sprint stores give them a huge advantage in this situation, said Ted Whitlinger, a risk-control consultant at Willis of Ohio Inc. "And they didn't own that building. They were just tenants. That helps them because they can continue to operate out of the other locations.
"If they were totally housed in one building and it went down, then they'd be much more challenged."
A second Robert Mason store is in Ravenswood, W.Va., but it operates independently of the Columbus location.
Neighbors have rallied around the stricken businesses, said Melissa Fast of Capital Crossroads Special Improvement District.
"It's a testament to the way Downtown businesses work together," she said.
Sugardaddy's, for example, has received calls of support and help from groups and companies including the National Association of Women Business Owners, J. Gumbo's, 39 Below and Residence Inn. The brownie shop is upbeat enough about the future, and so grateful for the help, that Anglim and her company have renamed their Fiery Brunette brownie in honor of Columbus firefighters - the Firehouse Brunette.
In Robert Mason's case, the support of friends extends to the online world of crowdfunding.
"My best friend from college started a (fundraising) page," Grimmett said, at YouCaring
.com that has already raised more than $2,000, "and Cement Marketing stepped up and started another Kickstarter-type program at HelpRobertMason.com. I did not anticipate any of that happening to us."
The use of crowdfunding is "a great idea," Mead said. "I never would have thought of that, and I've used Kickstarter for other enterprises. Especially for a small company, a few thousand dollars can be the difference between survival and going out of business.
"Your friends will help you," Mead said. "That's that greatest part of recovering."
Plans call for the building to be repaired, Fortin said.
The hope is that Sprint will be back within 60 days and Sugardaddy's within seven to nine months.
It's uncertain when Robert Mason might be open again.
"It's a wonderful location," Fortin said. "It's kind of a gateway to what I call 'the block party of our Downtown.' Everybody loves Gay Street."