The smell of smoke, pieces of broken glass and burnt debris that still litter the sidewalk and the charred husks of buildings which once housed several local downtown businesses are not the only lingering consequences of the July fire downtown.
A month after a fire ravaged several businesses located in Murray’s historic Court Square, shop owners are continuing to see their livelihood affected by the incident.
Carla Banks, owner of Frame Village, said although her store was not damaged by the blaze, she has seen a considerable drop in customers.
Frame Village sits between The Bull Pen and Rudy’s, both now temporarily closed due to damage from water and smoke, and just one building over from where the fire took place.
“It’s been hard,” Banks said. “A lot of people thought all the businesses here were closed due to the fire because the street was closed. It’s just been a tough, slow month.”
Initially the fire necessitated the closing of not only the downtown area of 5th Street, but also Maple Street between 4th and 6th streets and Main Street between 4th and 6th streets to allow Murray fire, police departments and Calloway County Fire-Rescue uninhibited access.
The barricades were only lifted from 5th Street Aug. 14 to allow automobile traffic and the section of Maple Street is still closed.
Bonnie Raspberry, owner of The Wild Raspberry, said even though her business resides across the street from where the fire happened, for the first week after, their business too had less customers. She said she hopes Great Beginnings, the annual festival held in Court Square for Murray State students, will help bring back shoppers to the area.
This fire is the latest in a string of major damages to the buildings in Court Square over the past six months.
Such damages include the collapse of a building in February and a roof collapse in March, with both of these prior incidents having occurred in different parts of the Court Square.
Karen Welch, manager of New Life Christian Bookstore, said although the basement of the store was flooded and they lost power due to the firefighters’ efforts to control the fire, the biggest problem caused for the business was trying to attract customers again. She, like Banks, also cited the continued closure of 5th Street as a major deterrent for business.
“We’ve lost three weeks of cash flow,” Welch said. “In total, for the past six months, we’ve lost somewhere around six or seven weeks of cash flow. We’re like most businesses in this economy; we don’t sit around with weeks’ worth of cash flow in the bank.”
Welch said she’s tried to get the word out that the store is open through commercials, advertisements and social media, but that not until the road barricade came down did she see any increased business.
“Some people assume we’re still closed and some people assume that because we didn’t burn that we haven’t been affected at all by this,” she said. “It’s been very difficult to function and we’re just trying to take it a day at a time right now.”
The buildings housing Wilson’s Florist, Profiles Salon and Spa and the Thurman Campbell Group CPA offices on 5th Street were those most heavily damaged by the fire. Although the State Fire Marshal’s investigation into the cause of the fire is still ongoing, it is believed that the fire originated in Wilson’s Florist.
The building has been fenced off both to protect the scene from being tampered with and due to the possible structural damage to the building.
The State Fire Marshal’s investigation is expected to be concluded by mid-September.
Story by Ben Manhanke, Staff writer