For the past week, Union Street has looked a little different.
The damage left behind from the fire on Nov. 16 was severe enough to shut the portion of Union Street between Congress Street and Court Street almost completely down. The fire ravaged the buildings that housed both students and several businesses, which include Jack Neal Floral, Uptown Dog T-Shirts, Smoke Zone Smoke Shop, Kismet-Athens, The Union Bar & Grill and Jackie O’s Pub & Brewery.
“It takes your breath away when you walk by it, and not in a good way,” said Mikayla Liston, a sophomore at Ohio University. Liston said that she walks by the damage almost every day.
“It’s hard to see the damage that really happened in the light of day, especially knowing that those were people’s homes, jobs and lives,” Liston said. “But it is also great to walk by and see all the help that is going on to restore the damage done on Union.”
Lauren Hartsel, a senior at OU, said she was “astonished” when she first saw the aftermath of the fire.
“It devastates me to see local businesses and historic buildings in ruins,” Hartsel said.
Although two of the businesses, Jackie O’s and The Union, intend to reopen their doors as soon as possible, the other businesses will most likely not be returning to their original locations on Union Street. Instead, they intend to relocate and reopen their stores somewhere else in Athens. Though this is good news for the businesses, employees and customers, Union Street will not be the same.
With the exception of Jackie O’s, which recently reopened for business on its Brew Pub side this past Wednesday, many of the stores and the students who lived above them are now without homes. To top it off, at least 70 employees, both part-time and full-time, have been laid off as a result of the fire.
Last week, several of those businesses assessed their situations to determine the amount of damage and to figure out when they could rebuild and reopen their businesses.
According to an article in The Athens NEWS, owners of the The Union fully intend to rebuild and reopen the locally-beloved bar as soon as possible. Although the damage on the bottom floor of The Union mostly consists of severe water and smoke damage, the second floor, which housed the stage and second bar station, was destroyed by the fire.
In The Athens NEWS article, Andrew Studniarz, one of the co-owners of The Union, said he and his co-owners were “adamant about keeping The Union The Union.” He also remarked that they hope to have the building finished by the beginning of the 2015 fall semester.
Although Jackie O’s has already opened its Brew Pub side of the bar for business, its Public House side won’t be able to reopen for a few months. Jackie O’s kitchen is housed in The Union’s building, which suffered excessive damage that is ultimately preventing the restaurant portion of the business from operation. The Public House side also suffered smoke and water damage.
Jack Neal Floral, Uptown Dog T-Shirts, Smoke Zone Smoke Shop and Kismet-Athens plan to relocate.
Uptown Dog T-Shirts suffered smoke and water damage as well as the collapse of a portion of the wall located against the back of the t-shirt store’s building.
Mary Cheadle, owner of Uptown Dog, told The Athens NEWS that because of the wall collapse, the building may have to be torn down. Cheadle hopes to soon reopen the store at another location in Athens.
The owners of Smoke Zone and Jack Neal Floral also said that it would be unlikely for them to return to their Union Street locations, yet they intend to relocate and reopen as soon as possible in Athens.
Kismet-Athens, the women’s clothing store on Union Street, was declared a total loss by John Paszke, the Athens city code enforcement director. The owners of the clothing store, Victor and Jocelyn Williams, also plan to look for another location to reopen the store because they are unsure if the building can be restored.
According to another article from The Athens NEWS, investigators have determined that the fire began in the rear of the building at 16 W. Union St., which is the building where Kismet-Athens was located. No businesses or individuals have been faulted for the fire.
It is apparent that the community of Athens grieves for the losses of those businesses and student homes by the widespread support. The community is also working together to help restore the victims of the Union Street Fire. Some charity events have already taken place, while others are still on-going. The Athens community plans to assist in the rebuilding process.
The appearance of Union Street has been altered in the end, but the Athens community will remain as solid as a boulder.