Sylva businesses make their way after downtown fire
It’s been a couple of weeks since the downtown Sylva fire. And while most of downtown is humming along nicely, the handful of businesses directly impacted by the fire continue working to recover.
The previously closed stretches of Main Street and Mill Street have been partially opened, allowing for traffic to flow through almost as if nothing ever happened. But something did happen. And behind a cloaked fence blocking off blistered storefronts, that reality is still fresh as ruined merchandise is removed and fire-wrecked buildings are gutted.
Just on the functional side of the fence sits Hookers Fly Shop. The fishing store was spared the fate of its next-door neighbors, but can still feel the impact of the Aug. 21 fire.
“I don’t see as much foot traffic with two of the big businesses, Black Rock and Motion Makers, being closed,” said Jason Cole, standing behind the counter at the fly shop.
Blackrock Outdoor Co. and Motion Makers bike shop remain shrouded behind the black fence, along with Trevalino’s, the yet-to-open restaurant, where the fire is thought to have started, perhaps in an air handler.
Both the outdoors store and bike shop provided spill-over customers for the fly shop.
“They might need something hiking and might come for a fly or something,” Cole said. “We’d see people bring a bike to drop off and then walk over here.”
While Motion Makers has relocated, Blackrock will remain closed for a while. The outdoors store hopes to reopen the main floor within 10 weeks, but will work through the winter months to restore the rest of the property.
Around the backside of the block, on Mill Street, is another covered fence. The businesses behind it — Southern Signs, a sign shop, and Backstreet Airsoft, which sells military antiques and replica guns — took a beating from the water used to fight the fire on Main Street.
“I was right under the fire, so yeah, there was about three feet of water standing behind the door when it broke,” said Nancy Saxon, owner of the Southern Signs sign shop. “We found things down by the railroad track from the shop, so it was pretty forceful.”
Backstreet Airsoft’s owner plans to take advantage of offsite vending opportunities in Penrose while the property is repaired. Saxon landed a spot a few doors down from her water-damaged shop.
The sign shop suffered losses in the fire. Property was destroyed, the computer was ruined — “that was a big loss because it had my files” — but Saxon’s big ticket item was spared.
“This is my main piece of equipment,” she said, pointing to a vinyl cutter used to create her signs. “It was sitting in the middle of the room, it didn’t get touched.”
Looking for silver linings beyond the surviving vinyl cutter, Saxon points to the spirit of community that the fire sparked in downtown, which she described as already tightknit.
“Backstreet especially,” she said. “We’re a pretty close community. We’ve always been close. Now, we’re a little closer.”
Motion Makers’ Kent Cranford is a part of that close downtown community. And while his shop is now a bit off of the main strip, he is still a part of that community.
Up the hill from Mill Street, in a cavernous building on Scotts Creek, Motion Makers has taken up residence in the space occupied by Jordan River Christian Bookstore. The bike shop’s inventory is gradually replacing that of the bookstore, which is relocating.
The creekfront property is huge. Cranford describes it as “pretty sweet” and “nuts.”
“It’s twice the size of what our other store was,” he said. “It’s too much space for us, but it could turn into something fun.”
From his new place on Alan Street, Cranford can seen Motion Makers’ former home on Main Street.
“It’s like ‘awww, man,’” he said reflectively, pointing to his old location.
Following the fire, Cranford considered moving out of Sylva. Many of his customers are professors and students hailing from Cullowhee. The university crowd was reaching out, encouraging a move.
“Saying ‘yes, please come to Cullowhee,’’ Cranford said. “They were giving me places and ideas.”
But the Sylva community also reached out. They let Motion Makers know they cared from the get-go.
“Literally, downtown poured out, ‘how can we help,’” said Kathy Alison, the bike shop’s bookkeeper. “I mean, the Wells Fargo girls came over in their beautiful outfits wanting to help. The Sylva Herald let us use their upstairs office. For many days we could not pay for our food or our drinks.”
“It was really amazing, people still keep checking on us,” Cranford said.
And they also let them know they wanted Motion Makers to stick around. When the bike shop settled on its new location, the community excitement was “completely palpable.”
“Huge, not just a casual comment,” Cranford said.
And while the recent fire threw the bike shop for an initial loop, the resulting move seems to makes sense for Motion Makers. Customers have more space to offload their bikes. There’s room for test rides, and plenty of space for offices, merchandise and repair areas.
Out back of the shop is a large swath of yard along the creek. Cranford likes to dream of the possibilities his new place provides.
“There’s Scotts Creek right here,” he said, visualizing his customers eventually having a space at his shop to relax by the water and enjoy the view. “You can picture a deck right there.”
Sylva Cash Mob
In an effort to help cushion the economic impact of the recent fire on downtown Sylva merchants, Venture Local Franklin, a community and business organization out of Macon County, has organized a ‘cash mob.’
At 5:30 p.m. Sept. 5, people will gather on the steps of the Jackson County Courthouse. From there they will descend on downtown with cash in hand to support downtown businesses.