Garrettsville – Everything changed on March 22, 2014. Like the day the music died, that date altered local history irreversibly. The Great Garrettsville Fire ripped through the Buckeye Block on Main Street, taking with it 14 businesses, a once-familiar skyline, and 160 years of history.
What started as a small blaze on the roof behind Miller’s Lawn & Garden quickly spread to become the greatest disaster to befall Garrettsville. Exhaustive efforts from local firefighters (with support from 100 firefighters from 34 neighboring departments) were no match for the hungry blaze which devoured the 1850s-era wooden structures occupying the retail block. Ironically, the Buckeye Block Building had just been freshly renovated and fully occupied close to a dozen businesses.
Between lunchtime and dinnertime that fateful Saturday, what began as a simple hot seal-and-patch roof repair job became the assumed (although never officially determined) spark for the blaze which leveled the Buckeye Block — all except for the small brick and firewalled law office building which withstood the devastation. Once dwarfed by the buildings surrounding it, the brick edifice stands out now as a scarred survivor on the empty lot where it now remains.
The casualties that day were the Nelson-Garrettsville Community Cupboard (NGCC) founded by Mike and Michele Elias, Stephanie Dietelbach’s One Real Peach, Kim DelTorto’s Chic & Shabby, Miller’s Lawn & Garden (Jen Click), Tom and Brenda Mesaros’ T& B Tools, Randy and Kim Weingart’s Shaker Tree, Jim Reppy’s Barber of G’ville, Dan Myers’ New Hearing Sales & Services, Dr. Frank Stoddard’s Garrettsville Foot and Ankle Clinic, the law offices of Dann Timmons, Amy Turos and Kim Kohli, Dale Shiffer’s Clock Repair, and Mike Maschek’s Maschek Construction.
Some business owners scrambled to resume operations in new locations around town. Others have gone out of business completely. Still others are collaborating with established merchants to maintain some level of continuity. Most are on hold to a great degree, searching for ways to return to Main Street. But they face daunting financial and personal risk, and no guarantee of adequate return on anticipated investment. The odds are against them.
Everybody’s doing the best they can, but it’s not the same.
More than just storefronts were swept away by the fire. Alluding to a lost sense of community, Garrettsville Mayor Rick Patrick expressed, “Everybody’s doing the best they can, but it’s not the same. These were more than business people. They were friends and family. Now they’re separated and scattered.”
However, the lone surviving Mishler Building signals a return of life to the Buckeye Block. It has changed hands and now is owned by Carlson Funeral Home. The family-owned local service, now in its fourth generation, plans to occupy a portion of the building to offer pre- and post-funerary services. Family Service Administrator Trish Danku anticipates working from the building sometime this summer, after water and electric lines are re-established, and remodeling is completed. Attorney Kim Kohli is considering an offer to return her practice to the former Mishler Building as well. She has been operating from the second level of the Ellerhorst Insurance ever since the fire.
Perhaps it’s fitting that a professional specializing in helping people cope with death and grief is the first to return to the burned-out Buckeye Block, because to many living in the aftermath of March 22, 2014, this past year has been a painful period of shock, loss and learning to cope with an unwelcome new reality.
Singed by Fire
“It’s been an interesting year,” says Kim DelTorto, former owner of Chic & Shabby Resale Shop, formerly occupying 4,000 square feet at the corner of Main and High streets, stretching across four storefronts. “Losing both the business and the building was like a death. I had to figure out what to do with my life after sorting through all the paperwork.”
There is no easy solution. Echoing most other former Buckeye Block business owners, DelTorto wants nothing more than to rebuild and re-establish her beloved business on Main Street. But replacing that old building according to modern code translates to three-to-four times her original investment. Overnight, the rules of the game changed and resuming business on the Buckeye Block will require much deeper pockets than anywhere else in the village’s historic district.
Losing both the business and the building was like a death.
Meanwhile, DelTorto is selling real estate with Howard Hannah in Aurora. And she’s finding a way to bring an element of Chic & Shabby back to Garrettsville in collaboration with another existing business on Main street. Details are still in the works, but look for a collection of Chic & Shabby home decor, lamps, knick-knacks and furniture available for retail once again by April.
According to Buckeye Block Building owner and renovator Mike Maschek, it will take $15-$20 million to rebuild the entire downtown block; $4 million just to replace his ravaged building. He, like DelTorto, is itching to rebuild, but lacks the funding to proceed. No conventional loans are available to cover the required amount; so grants and gifts are the only potential resource keeping the dream alive.
“Free money is the only game in town,” Maschek says. He says he has received a potential offer from an anonymous investor/benefactor who has expressed interest in buying the property and allowing Maschek to rebuild on that site. He expects a firm answer within a month.
We need a miracle.
“Rebuilding will take more than money,” Maschek says. “We need a miracle.”
Funding the Future
Meanwhile, the slow and steady work of small-town fundraising is moving forward. The Garrettsville Area Chamber of Commerce launched the #GarrettsvilleStrong Fund immediately after the fire. Within the past year, it has collected $87,930 toward the rebuilding effort. ”Donations are still coming in from across the country,” says Chamber Secretary Michelle Zivoder.
A book containing the history and photos featuring the burned-out block by James A. Garfield Historical Society member Pam Montgomery is slated to be available for sale as part of the fundraising effort by early summer. Rich Teresi’s photo/video DVD of the March 22 fire is available for $10 at the Weekly Villager office or online at garrettsvillearea.com. The Villager also has 900 Coalition and #GarrettsvilleStrong T-shirts available for sale. In addition, several merchants are working to establish a “Keep The Change” fund where customers can donate their change from purchases to the #GarrettsvilleStrong fund.
Anyone with a new fundraising project idea or donation to support the rebuilding effort is requested by the Village of Garrettsville and the Garrettsville Area Chamber of Commerce to contact Zivoder at 330.527.5761 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The #GarrettsvilleStrong fund is dedicated to reconstruction efforts within Garrettsville’s business district on Main Street between Center and High Streets. It is administered by a board of directors, and payouts will be made from the fund based on the fund’s established guidelines. Proceeds from fundraisers are deposited into the #GarrettsvilleStrong account at Middlefield Bank.
To make a direct donation to the fund, visit or call the Garrettsville Branch of Middlefield Bank at 8058 State Street (330.527-2121) and request that your donation be made to #GarrettsvilleStrong.
To make your donation through the mail, please mail checks made payable to #GarrettsvilleStrong to: #GarrettsvilleStrong, c/o Garrettsville Area Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 1, Garrettsville, Ohio 44231.
Now that the spring thaw is finally upon us, signs of life will return to the Buckeye Block. The Garden Club will soon set up planters of colorful flowers around town, and two Cruise Nights will brighten up Main Street as summer approaches. Summerfest will once again overtake the last week in June, with more vendors than ever and the main stage on the Buckeye Block, says Garrettsville Mayor Rick Patrick.
Bids will go out this summer for implementing an $80,000 streetscaping grant from Portage County. The funds will be used for new sidewalks, landscaping, lighting, and infrastructure along the historic district.
“A lot has happened in a year,” says Patrick. “The property owners worked hard to clear the rubble, level the area and plant grass so it looks better. This is going to take time. All the merchants have suffered. We need more traffic downtown to support the businesses, bars and restaurants on Main Street. Things are hopeful, but unsure.”