Monday night I received a call from a friend that the Height's Plaza was on fire. I grabbed my camera and drove up the hill. When I arrived part of the roof above the legendary J&S Pizza was damaged but it appeared that the fire was under control. This, unfortunately, was not the case. About 8 years ago the entire Plaza was remodeled; a new aluminum and plaster facade and faux-roof were built over the old brick and wood. This created a tunnel for the fire to travel the length of the strip-mall and prevented the firefighters from getting water directly to the flames until it managed to burn through the roof. All things told an estimated 10 million dollars in damage with the fate of about 7 small, locally owned businesses uncertain.
It's strange that I'm a little tore-up inside at the destruction of a strip-mall. I hate suburbia, strip-malls and the genericness they bring. This one was different though: After the Walmart opened its doors up the street most of the businesses moved out of The Plaza and left the space open for rent. Slowly the mom and pop shops of the area started trickling in and while it looked like a strip-mall on the outside, it was a bastion of local commerce on the inside.
I've got a lot of fond memories attached to The Plaza too. The area acts as the town's meeting-space for parades and farmers-markets. Every year until I was about 12 I walked in the Halloween Parade. In 5th grade I won a prize for my Headless Horseman costume. When I was 6 I was hit by a car during the homecoming parade in which an ambulance was conveniently part of the procession. I woke up propped against the wall of Dollar Bank to witness my mom steal someone's fountain drink so that she could put the ice on my head. I had my first kiss in front of Quinio's Barbershop in the nook that lead to Sheldon Park before they walled it off. Lots of long forgotten memories all hit me when I saw the place burning, memories I'm glad to remember.
The news isn't all bad though. The fire remained relatively contained to just the roof and most of the store interiors only suffered smoke and water damage. It's times like these that the small-businesses and entrepreneurs of the area need to band together. I've reached out to all the business owners who were affected by the fire offering any kind of photography or labor to help get them back up and running. In the coming days and weeks if you are of the area make it a point to visit these places as they re-open. Local support is what keeps us small business folks able to keep doing what we do.