A handful of small local businesses are scrambling to maintain their operations after a fire left their building in western Henrico charred and uninhabitable.
The building at 10615 Patterson Ave. in the Canterbury Green retail and office strip center was damaged beyond repair in a blaze that began on the evening of Jan. 22 and burned through the early hours of Jan. 23.
Owned by locally based The Wilton Companies, the 1980s-era, 6,300-square-foot building is considered a total loss.
The businesses that had been tenants in the building are also at a loss, including two that had recently moved in and one that had just signed on for an additional space.
Rachel Duke, who runs her namesake clinic that does Botox and other injection treatments, had moved into the building just seven months ago. She shared a suite with Chelsea Martin’s Luna Aesthetics & Spa and Duke said $175,000 was spent to outfit their spaces.
“Every day you kind of wake up in shock and thinking it’s a nightmare,” Duke said last week, a few days after the fire.
She said she got word of the fire from Martin late Monday night. Duke and her husband immediately drove over to find Patterson Avenue completely blocked off.
She said she was able to get closer by informing the authorities she was a tenant in the building.
“We witnessed it burning. It was quite traumatic to see,” Duke said.
They stayed until around 1:30 a.m. when the blaze was starting to be contained.
She went back the next morning, seeing employees of the various businesses showing up for work unaware. Seeing the damage in the daylight was even more jarring.
“I think ‘OK, we have some insurance. But then you think ‘I just placed a large order of Botox, there’s $20,000 worth of Botox in the fridge.’”
She was able to peer through the window of her suite and saw her various diplomas hanging on the wall in disrepair.
“I just kind of lost it,” she said.
In the days since, Duke said she’s navigated the insurance implications of such an incident, while searching for a new space for her business and her three employees.
She said on one hand she’s fortunate to have had client appointments booked through the summer. But regulations in her industry don’t allow her to simply ship more Botox to her home and have her clients come to her residence.
“You have to have a medical office,” Duke said. “Now it’s the stress of finding a space to have it shipped to and start getting supplies again and start seeing patients.”
In the interim, she’s returned to Balance, a coworking space just up the road. It’s where she operated from prior to moving in with Martin in the new space.
Duke said she and Martin are still holding out hope they can find a new space where they can cohabitate. They’re looking for around 2,200 square feet.
The insurance side of things has also been a pain point, Duke said.
She and some of her fellow tenants are realizing that they’re “under-insured,” in not carrying enough insurance to cover the full value of what was lost in the fire.
“As a small business owner, especially on the medical side, you have your liability insurance and malpractice insurance,” Duke said. “I don’t think a lot of us think a fire is going to take everything. We’ve kind of had a big slap in the face as far as what insurance we should have had.”
Duke’s neighbor, Brady Zizzo, also had the same realization.
Zizzo operates Annie Mae & Wes, a fast-growing maker of hair bows, particularly those for cheerleaders.
The business was growing at such a fast clip that it landed on last year’s RVA 25 list of the region’s fastest-growing companies and Zizzo had just signed on with Wilton to expand into extra square footage in the building.
Zizzo learned of the fire from one of her employees, who typically starts her shifts early around 6 a.m. and showed up for work as usual, only to find the aftermath.
Zizzo arrived not long after.
“I pull up and the windows are blown out. Stuff from our office is blown multiple feet into the parking lot,” Zizzo said. “It literally did look like something exploded. Everybody lost everything.”
Zizzo said she had 52 outstanding orders for bows when the fire occurred. Determined to try to fulfill those orders as promised, she paid to order the necessary equipment and supplies and have them shipped overnight to her home.
“I set up folding tables in my basement and packed up my kids’ playroom. I don’t want to cancel any orders,” she said. “We’re doing it, it’s just not cute. We’re trying to get it done.”
Zizzo said she, like Duke, found out she wasn’t carrying enough insurance to cover all that was lost. She said she’ll have to spend $45,000 on equipment, supplies and other items needed to reopen. That doesn’t include lost orders and payroll.
She said her dozen or so employees are hanging on for now.
“All these people count on me for a job and I just lost a whole bunch of money. I don’t want them to lose money too,” Zizzo said.
Another recent arrival to the building was Chadwick Heirlooms, a longtime fabric and quilting supply shop. It had recently relocated to the building from its longtime home farther west on Patterson Avenue.
The owner of Chadwick Heirlooms couldn’t be reached for comment about the status of the business.
Precision Print & Copy was one of the longer tenured tenants in the building.
Owner Rhonda Tanir said the business quickly scrambled to find a new home to try to limit the interruption to its clients.
“I’m sure that I don’t have to tell you, this is not something that most small businesses plan for,” Tanir said in an email to BizSense. “There was no contingency plan in place and our work is not work that can be done remotely.”
Tanir said they’ve found a temporary location from which to operate beginning this week, but that they’re not yet out of the woods.
“While we have the good news of a temporary location to go to, know that the greater challenge of rebuying, leasing, etc. all of the property that was lost, will require the most creativity.
Tanir expressed optimism, despite the challenges.
“The community we’ve served for over 30 years has spoken, and we feel a sense of responsibility to them, to recover as quickly as possible,” she said. “We do believe their loyalty and love is with us and we do still remain hopeful.”
Zizzo also is looking on the bright side, after signing a letter of intent for a new space.
“It’s been a long week, but things are looking up,” she said last week. “I feel like when things like this happen there’s a silver lining. I can’t wait to see what it is.”
Wilton Companies, the landlord, is also left to sift through the wreckage.
CEO Rich Johnson said the company is working on many fronts in the wake of the fire.
“This is always a tough situation where we’re dealing with the insurance issues on one side while working with the tenants – assisting with finding alternate locations, helping some deal with their own insurance companies … and working with them to plan for our mutual future,” Johnson said in an email to BizSense.
Johnson said the company is still weighing its options of what to do with the property.
“Given the age of the properties, it’s unlikely that we will rebuild the exact same structures – just too many improvements in technology, development standards and expectations of tenants and their customers for that to make sense,” Johnson said.
As of last week, the cause and origin of the fire was still under investigation, according to a spokesman for the Henrico Fire Department. No one was harmed in the fire.
As of Monday, Wilton informed tenants that they could re-enter the building for the first time since the fire to retrieve any salvageable belongings. They must first sign a waiver and enter at their own risk.