Mount Vernon businesses hit by fire remain in operation

Two businesses whose storefronts were destroyed by a large fire Sunday, May 1 are still operating, and owners of both plan to rebuild.

No injuries were reported in the blaze, which firefighters from multiple departments responded to about 3 a.m. Sunday and which was later determined to be accidental in nature, according to the Mount Vernon Fire Department.

The fire took down about half a city block along West Division Street, reducing to rubble buildings that had stood for more than 70 years.

Despite the losses, the owners of the two affected businesses, Craft Stove and Hansen’s Furniture, have continued operations this week.

Hansen’s owners Don and Cindy Gerrior said they have started shifting their business to their other location, which is also on West Division Street and within walking distance from the store that burned. The Gerriors bought the business 20 years ago, though the company has operated in Skagit County for far longer under previous owners.

“We’ve been here 79 years. You’re not going to knock us out of here that easy,” Don Gerrior said.

Craft Stove, with its sole location now gone, has had to be more creative to stay open, owner Ben Sousa said.

Employees have set up a temporary home base at JP Automotive, located down the road from the site of the fire, Sousa said.

There, they have been able to park trucks and receive deliveries as they continue to make service and installation calls.

Sousa said the biggest challenge is honoring customer appointments that had already been scheduled.

With the store’s paperwork lost in the fire, Sousa has been encouraging customers who have set appointments to contact the business by phone or email or visit Craft Stove’s website and social media pages for more information. Employees are rebuilding the store’s service calendar from scratch, he said.

“All our records are gone, so we’re relying on people to contact us,” Sousa said.

The fire was found to have been started by burnt wooden pellets deposited about 3 p.m. Saturday into a wooden bin outside the Craft Stove building, Mount Vernon Fire Chief Roy Hari said Monday.

The pellets had been used earlier in the day in a pizza oven in the store. They were discarded into the wooden bin that contained concrete and soot debris from chimneys, according to Hari.

The combined financial loss to the businesses has not been fully determined, but initial estimates indicate it could top $2 million, according to Mount Vernon Fire Marshal Steve Riggs.

On Tuesday, a chain-link fence barred entry to the site, which now contains piles of blackened, mostly unrecognizable remnants.

Cindy Gerrior said she arrived early Sunday morning to the scene of the fire just as two fire engines had deployed ladders to blast water on the flames from above.

The fire was contained within Craft Stove at that point, and Cindy Gerrior said she began praying that the blaze wouldn’t grow.

But as thick, black smoke began rolling skyward, she said she knew neither store would survive.

Don Gerrior was in the hospital at the time, so Cindy Gerrior had to call to let him know what was happening.

She returned to work at Hansen’s other location later on Sunday and waited for power to be restored to the area so business could resume, she said.

Like Sousa, the Gerriors lost all the paperwork from their store in the fire, although Cindy Gerrior said she holds out hope that a fire-resistant safe will be recovered intact, which could make things easier.

“Right now, we’re really kind of lost,” she said. “We’re digging out.”

Both businesses have received messages from customers offering kind words, condolences and assurances that the stores will not lose their business while they recover.

“That’s been overwhelming, the response that we’ve gotten from people,” Sousa said.

Sousa said he wants to rebuild his store and is looking for a temporary location for now. He took over Craft Stove in 2014, after having worked there since 1985.

The Gerriors said they also plan to rebuild and will seek a temporary home as they move forward.

“What else can you do?” Cindy Gerrior said. “You have insurance. You don’t give up. You just can’t.”