After the downtown Wadena fire, apartment tenants and businesses are working to begin again. For some, the damages are lost apartments and others water soaked or smoke smelling businesses.

The accidental fire broke out at about 11 a.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 20 in the apartments above All Around Divas, Lorna’s Beauty Shop, the KSKK Radio office and Brink’s Jewelry. Wadena and Verndale firefighters quickly set out the apartment fire that was started by a cigarette container fueled by the wind. Wadena fire department secretary Andrew Browne said the outcome could have been worse if the fire had continued even just a few more minutes.

Business owners said they are thankful for the quick action of the firefighters, emergency responders and landlord Malcolm Whynott in setting out to extinguish the fire, and most importantly that apartment tenants made it out safely.

The displaced residents have been able to get their items out while work is continuing on repairing the damages, as Whynott said. The damaged apartments are being refinished and the smoke damaged apartments cleaned. Seven individual apartment units were considered uninhabitable due to smoke damage along with minor water damage to two units, according to a fire department news release.

“We’re just working on getting everything fixed up and up and running again,” Whynott said.

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The fire department is accepting monetary donations through a benefit account at the Wadena State Bank locations. Browne said they want to give back and hope people will contribute to the fund. Donations can be made at any of the Wadena State Bank branch locations. You can also mail donations to Wadena State Bank, Attn: Jefferson St Apartment Fire Victims, PO Box 191, Wadena, MN 56482.

In the first two weeks following the fire, All Around Divas co-owner Chasity Peterson and store manager Sarah Hanna said it brought uncertainty, a lot of waiting and the desire to reopen as soon as possible. They looked at temporary storefront locations and began building their inventory all over again. Once a few items were available, people could order online and have items delivered in town or shipped, though there weren’t many shipping orders, as Peterson said.

“Basically just having to reorder everything is a process, and that’s what we’ve been busy trying to do,” Peterson said, “and then get stuff to come in so we have something to put in the store.” The store had been open about a month at their new location next to Brink’s Jewelry before the fire.

The store was chock full of items for fall and Christmas, “we were really on our game this year,” as Peterson noted. With clothes ordered in the spring and early summer for fall and picks they hoped to share with customers, Peterson said “it was really sad throwing the clothes away.” Boxes of unopened clothes, which had arrived that Wednesday, were also discarded due to the water and smoke damage.

“It was very sad to see all the things that you’ve picked and then not even get to show people,” Hanna said.

After about a month closed, Divas is set to open on Black Friday, Nov. 26 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. along with the same hours on Saturday and normal store hours the following week. You can watch for special deals on those days on their social media.

With their grand re-opening, Hanna and Peterson say they are excited to see customers again and nervous with the smaller number of products they’ll have available. Peterson said clothes for winter and in the right color palette have been hard to find.

“I’m excited to see how everything lays out and just to see everybody again. I mean it’s so different to go from seeing the customers every day even if it’s just to say hi and then you don’t see (them). … This is our holiday season and you see more of the friendly faces and the regular customers,” Hanna said. “And people that you don’t see all the time during the year you see during this season,” Peterson added.

All Around Divas store manager Sarah Hanna displays a sign about the store reopening after being closed for about a month due to the downtown Wadena apartment fire on Oct. 20, 2021. 
Contributed / All Around Divas
All Around Divas store manager Sarah Hanna displays a sign about the store reopening after being closed for about a month due to the downtown Wadena apartment fire on Oct. 20, 2021. Contributed / All Around Divas

While the fire happened in the apartments upstairs, the power upstairs and downstairs was lost, and was restored on Monday, Nov. 1. Brink’s Jewelry was closed for about a week and a half while the electricity, heat, phone and internet were down. The KSKK Radio office had no one inside during the fire and the business has since consolidated offices with employees working out of their Park Rapids location or from home.

“The smoke was a lot less because we’re way in the front,” as Brink’s Jewelry owner Gayle Tabery said. The store was able to keep all of their products for sale without smoke or water damage. On their first week of reopening, employee Judy Gilb said they were working on getting back on track with their orders. Tabery said they were “picking away” at the bit of cleaning required.

“For us, we’re lucky because we didn’t have the extensive damage as the rest of the businesses and the apartments upstairs,” Tabery said. “We’re open for business.”

From the moment she left for errands to returning after a message from Gilb on that Wednesday, Tabery said firefighters were already in the back of the building. The fire departments extinguished the fire from the west side of the building on Jefferson Street and the roofing area on the east side, according to a fire department news release.

“We were just amazed how fast that they took action,” Gilb said of the firefighters.

Overall, Tabery said her business is “fortunate.”

At The Taste of Colombia, owners Gladys Kanis and Miriam Miller were having a meeting with the regional inspector when they heard loud noises upstairs. They figured it was just an odd noise or rain. The sisters are thankful to God for getting them to check on the situation outside and then safely out of the store.

“I stopped walking in the middle of the store when I saw the lot of smoke in the street and I say, ‘Wow, that’s a storm right there,’” Kanis said. “But some ladies in the front said, ‘Coming out, coming out’ very stressful.”

The inspector returned the next day and said the merchandise was good. Kanis said the smoke smell quickly left the store when they opened the doors throughout the building.

“Thank God, we don’t have any problems about the fire right here,” Kanis said.

The pieces are coming together again, and business owners are thankful for the work people have done to get their businesses open again.

“We’re so thankful nobody got hurt,” Gilb said. “That’s No. 1 priority, that everyone was safe,” Tabery added.