Downtown fire has businesses scrambling to keep rolling

Marty Burns, director of New Options at 35 W. Market St., was back at work Monday morning, March 13, after a fire ravaged a building two doors down the previous Wednesday. New Options, Vanity Fair and Classicut have re-opened in their current locations; Coldwell Banker Roth Wehrly Graber real estate agents are working from their cars and homes, using the Fort Wayne office as home base; attorneys Stan Matheny, Wil Hahn and Jill Denman have found temporary quarters downtown; and barber R.C. Eichorn is looking for a place to land.
Marty Burns, director of New Options at 35 W. Market St., was back at work Monday morning, March 13, after a fire ravaged a building two doors down the previous Wednesday. New Options, Vanity Fair and Classicut have re-opened in their current locations; Coldwell Banker Roth Wehrly Graber real estate agents are working from their cars and homes, using the Fort Wayne office as home base; attorneys Stan Matheny, Wil Hahn and Jill Denman have found temporary quarters downtown; and barber R.C. Eichorn is looking for a place to land. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

A law firm whose long-time home was waterlogged during firefighting efforts on March 8 is now operating out of temporary quarters in downtown Huntington, and the barber who plied his trade on the corner is looking for temporary quarters.

“I’ve got 620 customers to take care of,” says R.C. Eichorn, owner of RC Barber.

The seven agents of the Coldwell Banker Roth Wehrly Graber real estate office, located at 39 W. Market St. next door to the law office, are working wherever they can, using the firm’s office on Coventry Lane, in Fort Wayne, as home base. The local office’s phone number, 359-7000, is being forwarded to the Fort Wayne office, which will then contact the individual agents.

New Options, at 35 W. Market St., and Vanity Fair and Classicut, which share quarters at 33 W. Market St., came through the ordeal relatively unscathed — suffering just smoke damage — and are back in business, with no move necessary.

Attorneys Stan Matheny, Wil Hahn and Jill Denman have temporarily set up shop at 220 N. Jefferson St., on the second floor of the Copper Chord Music building.

The fourth attorney with the firm, Jeremy Nix, was already planning to end his association at the end of March and, after the fire, decided make the move immediately, Matheny says. Nix will be practicing at the Northrop Law Office at 53 W. State St., in Huntington.

The law firm, at 45 W. Market St., and the barber shop, on the corner at 49 W. Market St., suffered the most damage — all from water and smoke — of the six first floor businesses on the block.

The six second story apartments above the Market Street law office and barber shop were heavily damaged after an attic fire burned for more than a day, causing the roof to collapse.

“The water damage was just horrific,” Eichorn says.

A barber for 46 years, he’s been in business on the corner of Market and Cherry streets for 17 years. He rented the building from D&N Investments — Denman and Nix — but not owning the business hasn’t kept him from making improvements over the years.

“We tore the plaster out bucket by bucket and put in a brand new fire wall a few years ago,” he says. “All brand new paneling, new ceiling, new floor.”

Now that’s gone. So are some of the building’s historical elements, he says, including the milk glass that was in place back when it was Joe Etter’s barber shop. His collection of model planes, some built by Huntington resident Bob Cline, got soaked.

“I had to throw some away,” he says.

Business records and customer payments are lost in the debris.

“The mayor was down on his hands and knees helping me sift through the water stuff, looking for envelopes,” Eichorn says.

The barber thinks some of his equipment may be salvageable, including the waiting chairs and two barber chairs.

“All my tools, everything’s waterlogged,” he says.

Eichorn wants his customers to know he’s still going to be in business, even if the first location he finds turns out to be only temporary.

“I’ll have a permanent place eventually,” he says. “Right now the mayor’s trying to find me a temporary place.”

Matheny, Hahn and Denman had their new location picked out just a day after the fire and opened for business there on Monday, March 13. The new location is at 220 N. Jefferson St., across the street from the Huntington County Courthouse. Although it’s on the second floor, Matheny says an elevator is available for clients.

The office phone number remains the same, 356-7030.

Legal records stored in computers were safely backed up, Matheny says, and restoration experts may be able to save some of the waterlogged paper records.

As for the Market Street building, it’s too early to know what will happen.

“We don’t know if the building can be saved or not,” Matheny said two days after the fire. “If it can be saved, we’ll be back in it.”

Bob Burnsworth, a realtor at Coldwell Banker, says he doesn’t know when that firm will be able to resume business in its office at 39 W. Market St. Insurance adjusters and contractors were set to start checking out the building late this week to determine what can be saved and what will need to be replaced.

The thousands of gallons of water poured on the fire resulted in the loss of some, but not all, paperwork, he says.

“Anything that was outside of filing cabinets, paperwise, is gone,” Burnsworth says. “But all the contracts, the legal stuff, was in file cabinets.”

The building that houses New Options, Classicut and Vanity Fair is separated from the real estate office by a narrow gap.

Cleanup efforts at those businesses started immediately, with Classicut and Vanity Fair re-opening on Saturday, March 11, and New Options on Monday, March 13.

Marty Burns, director of New Options, says he was in the back of his building when the fire started.

“I wondered who the hell had a woodburner,” he says. When he walked up front, he saw the fire; he stayed in the building until around 10 a.m., when firefighters told him to leave.

New Options, Classicut and Vanity Fair all sustained smoke damage and a small amount of water in the basement.

“They got us cleaned up pretty quickly,” says Sharon Bryan, owner of Classicut. “We were back in operation on Saturday.”

Vanity Fair is owned by Louise Covey.

The only other problem at New Options was a phone that wasn’t working, but Burns was hoping for a quick fix to that —and happy that his problems weren’t any worse.

“We’re awful lucky,” he says, noting the extremely high winds the day of the fire. “Every time I thought they were getting a handle on it, you’d see fire somewhere else.”

Matheny, who confesses to be a bit of a history buff, owned the Market Street building now occupied by the law firm and the barber shop for 40 years before selling it to Nix and Denman in 2007.

He’d bought the building in 1967 from the heirs of U.S. Lesh, who built it during his years as an Indianapolis attorney. The first year the building was on the tax rolls was in 1914, Matheny says. In those early years, the corner section now occupied by the barber shop housed a Western Union office.

Lesh served as Indiana’s attorney general from 1920 to 1924. When his term as attorney general was up, he came back to Huntington and set up his office in the building he’d built. It’s been home to a law office ever since, Matheny says.

The fire was discovered on Wednesday, March 8, about 8 a.m.

It was confined to the attic area of the building that houses the law office and barber shop. Firefighters were able to keep it from spreading to the Coldwell Banker office next door, even though the two buildings share a wall.

Firefighters from several departments fought the blaze, which was finally extinguished on Thursday, March 9, about 6 p.m.

“God bless our fire department,” Burns says. “They worked their butts off.”