GRANDVIEW - When business owners within the half-mile evacuation radius of the Wilbur-Ellis fire were told to close their doors last Wednesday, many had no idea that their doors would remain closed for more than just a few hours.
The merchants, like those people who lived in close proximity to the agricultural chemical retailer, were evacuated when emergency personnel determined that the smoke from the blaze could be hazardous. Many businesses along Wine Country Road were forced to leave Wednesday afternoon, with several not being able to reopen until last Saturday.
Amy Stroh, owner of Cafe Grande Vue, located just two buildings down from Wilbur-Ellis on Wine Country Road, said she and her staff were told by fire personnel to evacuate. She said they closed up shop between 12:30 and 1 p.m. that day. It is estimated the fire started about 12:10 p.m. last Wednesday.
However, Stroh said someone had driven by telling them they would likely have to evacuate before the fire official knocked on their door giving them the official word. This gave the business owner a little time to prepare, putting away food and cleaning up before they were forced to leave.
Not all business owners within the evacuation area were told about the fire. Kara Tucker, owner of Karen's Floral at 802 W. Wine Country Rd. said she had no idea the area was being evacuated until her son called her from school telling her wrestling practice had been canceled. Tucker said when she walked out of the flower shop on her way to pick up her son, she was hit with the chemical smell as soon as she opened the door.
Tucker said it then took her nearly 45 minutes to get from her business to Grandview Middle School to get her son. She said looking at the traffic she decided while she was out she would also pick up her daughter, who attends school at McClure Elementary. Tucker said she knew something was going on, but she still didn't know that the area where she lives and works had been evacuated.
Tucker said it wasn't until she tried to make her way back onto Wine Country Road and saw police putting up road blocks that she realized getting back to her business wasn't going to be easy. Tucker said she had to stop at the barricades and explain that she had not only left her store open, but had left one of her employees arranging flowers. She said that she was told to go in, get what she needed and get right back out.
When Tucker made it back to the shop, she found that her one employee had received word about the evacuation and had already left and locked up the store. Still, Tucker, who lives next door to her shop, had to stop at her house, pick up her dog and lock up.
"I thought it would be a temporary thing," Tucker said.
Kwok Luis, owner of the New Hong Kong restaurant on the corner of Euclid and Wine Country Road, said he didn't receive official word about the evacuation either. Instead, he said he saw police putting up road blocks and decided he had better close his doors. Luis said the restaurant closed a little after 1:30 p.m. last Wednesday.
"I just locked the front door," he said.
Another business that was forced to close was Les Swab Tires at 812 W. Wine Country Rd. Manager Ryan Weld said the store closed its doors about 1:30 p.m. that afternoon
Each of the businesses said they did lose business being closed for several days last week.
"You lose your regular cash flow you have every day," Stroh said.
Stroh said she not only lost business, but she also had to throw out some supplies. She said she threw out food that had been prepared before the fire, as well as vegetables that had already been cut up. Other than that, Stroh said the only other thing she had to do to get ready to re-open, which she did last Saturday, was to wipe down all of the hard surfaces in her building with cleaner.
Luis said he also lost business while he was closed, adding that he also had to take the time to clean his building and throw away everything from food that had been prepared to placemats and napkins that had been sitting out on all of the tables.
"I had to throw a lot of stuff away," he said.
Luis said although he was allowed to return to his business last Friday, with all of the cleaning that had to be done he wasn't able to reopen until the following day.
Tucker said business didn't stop while she was evacuated. She said she had three funerals she had to put flowers together for that Friday.
"I had orders I needed to do," she said.
When she called the Grandview Police Department to see if she could come back into her business to pick up flowers for the three funerals she was told to come down to the police department and someone there would decide if that was a valid reason to re-enter the evacuation zone. Tucker said at that point they were only escorting people in so they could retrieve needed medications.
Tucker said she made her way down to the police station and after waiting in line for awhile was told that a police officer would escort her in to get the flowers. She said when the officer dropped her off in front of the shop he gave her a gas mask and told her to stay no longer than 10 minutes. Tucker said she ran into the shop and starting piling flowers into the delivery van at the store, taking whatever she could get her hands on.
From there Tucker set up a makeshift shop in her cousin's garage on Rader Road. She added that she had also forwarded her calls from the shop to her cell phone to try to salvage as much business as she could.
Despite losing several days of business, most of the business owners along Wine Country Road said they felt sorry for Wilbur-Ellis.
"It's an unfortunate event," Tucker said. "It's not their fault, it could have happened to anyone."
Stroh said she also feels bad for Wilbur-Ellis, adding that they have been a good neighbor. She said they are trying to pay back businesses for their losses, something she hopes local businesses aren't trying to take advantage of.
Tom Slatterly with Wilbur-Ellis said they are trying to do the right thing.
"We intend to stay in the Valley and be a good neighbor," Slatterly said.