One year ago this past week, the landscape was changed forever on the west side of the Mountain Grove square when a devastating fire led to the destruction of four buildings, with a fifth building facing an uncertain future at the time.
While being thankful that no one was seriously hurt or lost their life during the seven alarm fire, managers and owners of the five businesses and one church affected were instantly faced with uncertain futures while waiting for insurance companies and building inspectors to make their assessments. (Editor’s Note: Though contact was made with one Event Center owner, we were unable to get an interview done by the press deadline.)
Mattéo’s Pizza on
The lone survivor on the west side of the square is Mattéo’s Pizza on the Square, who only opened its doors just one month before the fire.
Owner Matt Brown said the business was then shut down for four and a half months before finally being able to reopen to the public during the night of the Christmas Parade in Mountain Grove last December.
“The fire took the wind out of our sails,” Brown said. “(After reopening) then some would come in and say we thought you burned down. We didn’t know you were opened.”
His building is still operating at half capacity as he is still unable to use a part of his building due to the damage.
Fast forward to this year’s July 27, Mattéo’s hosted a Community Appreciation Day to mark the one year anniversary of the disaster. The business offered $5 off any pizza. Firefighters and first responders were able to eat for 50% off. “We love the community; we love giving back,” Brown added.
As for this summer, Brown said business is slowly picking back up. It has picked up enough to allow them to soon expand into a full Italian restaurant featuring items like homestyle New York pizza, vodka rigatoni and fish fry Fridays. Brown said he’s also looking to being opened for his first high school football season, where he looks to provide what is known as “5th Quarter” after home football contests. “I want people to come to the pizza shop, to talk about the town, to talk about the game and pick each other up, if it is a bad vibe,” he said. “This is a small town. I want everybody to feel welcome.”
Words of Faith Life Church
For the members of Words of Faith Life Church and their Pastor Kevin Jenkins, the fire displaced their congregation for most of the past year.
The congregation worshiped outside, rotated locations before being offered a chance to gather at Pleasant Hill for a few months when weather was bad. Then in early January, the church purchased the building across from Miller’s Electric on 3rd St., which was one time the Almost Home church and most recently a garage for repairing vehicles. Pastor Jenkins says renovation work has begun and a lot of work was needed to be done to bring the location up to code.
“It will be a lot better than it was,” Pastor Jenkins said. “...As soon as it is finished, we can hold up to about 300 people.”
As for the church’s former property on the square, Pastor Jenkins says there are plans to sell it.
Stone Cottage Inn Bed and Breakfast along with
On the corner of the west side of the square once stood a beautiful building owned by Deborah Gehrken and her family. When the fire took place last year, Gehrken told the Wright County Journal that her pastor encouraged both her and her daughter, Jessica Peterson, to look at the situation as a blank slate where the two could rebuild with a combined vision from the ground up.
As of one year from the fire, there remains uncertainty as to how the family will proceed.
Deborah’s daughter, Jessica, told the Wright County Journal last week that her father recently passed away.
“We’re working on just trying to move forward and find our place again,” Jessica added. “I’m getting my mind wrapped around what to do moving forward due to so many changes in a short period of time.”
It was just one year ago where Jessica’s baking business was taking off. She was planning a grand reopening and then the fire hit.
“It was pretty devastating to me personally,” she said.
Fortunately, one of her customers, Jim Burkowsky and his wife, Tara, helped her get back on her feet. She is now working at Smart Money Innovations while maintaining her goal of being a full-time baker. That being said, she is a baker who is living in a fixer-up house in Cabool without a kitchen.
“I haven’t lost my motivation,” she said. “I’m still here and still trying. Starting at zero without anything, it kind of becomes overwhelming...The clean-up aftermath and trying to figure out what to do with broken memories...Even though it’s been a devastating time, I feel pretty uplifted though I don’t know what the next step is going to be.”
Elaine’s Tax Service
David Littlewood said even while watching the fire last year, he and his mom, Traci, started looking for new real estate. Two days after the fire, they had a contract for the building at 303 N. Chapman St.
“We were working there within a week,” he said.
“We were building walls and hanging sheet rock around (Traci) in the new building. We didn’t lose anything except for bigger items...With our business, we had to act fast because we have clients’ weekly payroll.”
As for their property on the square, Littlewood said it was sold back to the City of Mountain Grove.
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