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article imageOp-Ed: Small businesses struggle after fire, landlord indifferent Special

By Jonathan Farrell     Mar 20, 2015 in Business
Sonoma - As empowering as small business can be, it can also be very unnerving when a family business or proprietor suffers an unexpected set back, such as a fire. Even if the damage is not extensive, the complications from it can interrupt a small business.
This is what some small local businesses are experiencing, trying to recover from an accidental fire that happened. No one was hurt but the ripple effect is reverberating. While the Bon Marche Thrift Store was able to recover from the fire that happened at the Riverside complex back in early November, other business tenants in the complex, (formerly the Nicholson Turkey Ranch facility) are not back on their feet. "We are happy for Anna and The Bon Marche that everything for them is going well and she is back in business," said Andy Smith of Imperial Services. But for me and the rest of us tenants that were impacted by the fire, it has been a struggle."
Smith and other shop owners in the far back of the facility that were adjacent to Bon Marche have been trying to conduct business without electrical power for almost five months. Dave Nogue of Mr. Stitch tailoring and repair said he has gone through his savings just to try to stay in business. Both he and Smith are willing to endure and "stick it out" as Nogue said to get business back up to speed. "I blew out a generator," noted Nogue as both he and Smith have cut back their hours to try to stay solvent.
But as Smith pointed out, "I estimate since the fire, my business is at a loss of about $2,000 a month." The claim he filed on behalf of Imperial Services only got him "$1,000 so far," he says. "Insurance company is dragging its feet." "That amount barely got me the generator I have been using since winter set in and it gets cold back here in this spot," Smith added.
Part of the dilemma that he, Nogue and a few others in the complex face is the quandary of "who will pay?" Both the owner and the manager of the building did not return calls.
Because Riverside Drive on which the old Nicholson Turkey Ranch sits is just past Sonoma Creek, City officials of Sonoma can do very little. All petitions and complaints must be filed in Santa Rosa since that part of Sonoma is actually "unincorporated areas of Sonoma County."
Pat Mullin of the Sonoma County Permit, Resource and Management Department said that a permit, an inspection and a complaint was filed. But nothing more since December of 2014. The case is still open.
File Marshall Alan Jones of the Sonoma Valley Fire Rescue Authority spoke briefly to this reporter while on assignment for The Sonoma Sun and said that the cause of the fire was from a hot plate in the employee kitchenette break room of Bon Marche. Investigation took place immediately after the fire was extinguished on Nov. 6. According to the official Fire Investigation Report, "due to extensive damage the buildings wiring, main breakers in the switchboard were in the locked position." The official investigation report also said that the building was not provided with any type of fire detection capability. And, while a fire sprinkler riser was found it was untagged and apparently non-functional.
Signs in back of the Riverside complex (formerly a turkey ranch) tell customers that the other busin...
Signs in back of the Riverside complex (formerly a turkey ranch) tell customers that the other businesses impacted by the November fire are still there, eager to keep going.
Disclosure of insurance carrier details was not able to be obtained. Yet, this reporter while on assignment for The Sun did learn that business not at fault but impacted by a fire can file a claim as Smith did. "I am thankful I was able to get the generator. But I can't go on like this, full power must be restored," he said.
Fire damage to businesses adjacent to the thrift shop were extensive.
Fire damage to businesses adjacent to the thrift shop were extensive.
Courtesy of Dave Nogue of Mr. Stitch, upholstery and repair, Sonoma
"No official word from anyone really, just vague communications of when the power will be fully restored," said Smith. He then provided a impromptu tour of his facility. Chairs waiting to be cleaned, rugs of various sizes, all clustered and stacked, crowding his modest work area. Just outside his workspace is the generator. The noise of it can be heard at a distance from his shop. And to be next to it working can be nerve-racking.
Like Nogue he has a sign outside his door announcing that while hours are cut back, Imperial Services is still in business. Nogue told The Sun, he was given a 30-day notice to vacate. Building manager Michael Rodes did not return calls to confirm or deny. "I am not going," said Nogue. He like Smith said that since the fire, they have been paying a reduced rent amount. Even with commercial rent given at half, both men think the owner should do more to ensure the power is turned back on.
Owner James McCalligan is an architect with over two dozen high-end projects completed to his name. It is puzzling as to why he is not pro-active in getting the power restored to that portion of his building complex. Elece Hempel of Petaluma People Services Center offered some perspective as she mentioned, "it is important for all tenants, especially commercial to go over what is set forth in the lease agreement."
Hempel who serves as executive director of Petaluma People Services Center, a community social services outreach, said that "many times recourse for commercial tenants is limited because protections upheld by law for residential leases are not there."
How all will be resolved in this situation is anyone's guess. But Smith said that he is willing to negotiate. Smith and his wife Amy inherited Imperial Services from her father Gene Marcinkowski when he retired in 2000. "Our family business has been existence since 1975 and after almost 40 years, I don't want to let it fall apart, especially over something as simple as electricity not being restored."
Smith said he heard that rough estimates to have a new electrical system installed was in the range of $14 to $17,000. While up to this point in the lease electrical was included, Smith said he is considering the possibility of taking out a loan to pay for the needed electrical work.
Mullin said that while there is very little the County of Sonoma can do at this point, "the hazardous electrical issue is a civil concern."
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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