Feb. 12, 2006: Fire destroys downtown landmark

by Richard Lamb–Advance Publisher

Nine years ago today, the Advance building was destroyed by fire. That is the short version of this story.

Three days after the fire, the Advance went out as usual.

The long version would take all day to tell, but let me briefly try. From the time I got the call around 7 a.m., Feb. 12, 2006, until weeks later, the biggest thing I will remember is how kind people can be. As we stood across the street in Bill Rygwelski’s parking lot, watching the fire that morning, people kept comforting us and offering us kind help. From food, money, office supplies, furniture, Macintosh computers to a fully-wired office, the outpouring of support came through.

Another good side came via our insurance agent, Richard Kowalski, who assured us we would be covered.

Feb. 12, 2006 --- this was the scene at the corner of Third and Erie Streets. (Photo by Richard Lamb)

A few hours into the fire, I had offers to move into several buildings in town. A few others offered their buildings for sale, both that morning and in the weeks that followed. The best offer came from Bill Friedhoff and Jeff Hopp. Bill, who now owns J&L Camera and Electronics, informed his then-boss Jeff about the fire. Jeff was out of town at a convention. They both quickly agreed to loan out their vacant office to the Advance. Before Bill even asked me, he had wired the office for internet and telephones and then invited me over to take a look. Well, yes, that would work fine for us. Will never forget that.

Turns out we moved in the next day, a Monday, and had the Advance out Wednesday morning. We never missed an issue.

All of the credit for that goes to the staff of Cella Bade, Shari Fleming and Peter Jakey, who are still with the Advance and several others who are not employed here anymore. They include Beth Kowalski, Adele Woskobojnik, Mandy Polaski and Tina Derry. Not long after that, Ann Przybyla and Angie Asam joined the staff and helped in the transition from the temporary office to our new place.

Firefighters from all over northern Michigan came to help put out the big fire. They gave it their best effort, but couldn’t save our building, or Darrin Darga’s Big D’s Pizza, but they did prevent the fire from taking the entire block. The cause of the fire was never determined.

The scene at 7:15 a.m. Feb. 12 2006

We moved into our new building, at the same site of the old one, in mid-December, 2006. Expert builder Jerry Fleming and his crew put the place together very well.

Seems like yesterday.