It’s been almost five months since a suspicious fire destroyed a large portion of the Mission Canadian Tire.
During that time, work has continued to rebuild the popular retail store which is now scheduled to reopen sometime in August.
Mission Canadian Tire dealer Jim Oliver and his wife Kristi Oliver say it has been a long journey for them and their staff, but they can finally see an end in sight.
“We had no idea it would be this extent when we first came in. We thought it was only half the store, but the damage was much worse than originally suspected,” explained Jim.
The fire, which has been classified as arson – occurred on Jan. 30, 2019 at about 6 p.m. The store was evacuated, and Mission Fire Rescue Service was called in to extinguish the blaze. While the damage was quite extensive, it soon became worse.
Later that night, at about 2 a.m., an explosion took place inside the store, setting off approximately 185 sprinklers and causing even more damage.
Oliver said he can’t talk about the details of the fires, but the amount of devastation and damage they left behind was in the millions of dollars.
“The burning down-filled jackets, plastics and nylon created a dangerous toxic soot. The fire, smoke and soot, combined with the water, spread everywhere, destroying all the store’s inventory. None of the inventory was re-sellable.”
The soot also tainted the fixtures, the drywall, almost everything it touched.
“Everybody thought it was a tiny, little fire because there were no flames coming out of the building.”
However, Oliver said it was one of the biggest fires Canadian Tire has ever experienced.
After a few days, Oliver, along with general manager Frank Ehrhardt, corporate operations officer Lisa Prieur and district sales manager T.K Roach were allowed to enter the building to survey the destruction.
“They didn’t let us into the store for about four days after the fire because the toxic air was too strong,” said Prieur.
When they did enter, they had to wear protective clothing and respirators.
“It was just heartbreaking. There was water pouring in, there was water, soot and smoke damage everywhere. All the products were just destroyed and things had fallen down. It was pretty humbling to go through and just see the total destruction of everything inside the store,” she said.
Finally seeing the damage brought home the fact that the result could have been so much worse. Oliver said lives could easily have been lost.
“Kaitlyn Hilliard and Evelyn Johnston were the two managers on duty and if it wasn’t for them, we could have lost lives. There was one gentleman who was in the washroom. They checked and got him out. All the staff and the customers got out safe.”
He credited Hilliard and Johnston for preventing what could have been a tragedy.
Now that the extent of the damage was known, the Olivers turned their attention to their staff and how soon they could reopen.
Fortunately, insurance covered their staff as well as the damages, allowing the Olivers to focus on the rebuild.
By the time everything was cleaned out, they were down to the four concrete walls and some metal studs. Even the roof had to be replaced.
“We are replacing, basically, 99.99 per cent of the store, other than the structure itself,” said Oliver.
Ehrhardt and Oliver worked for 18-straight hours to put together a new floor plan for the store.
‘‘We said if we were going to do this, and tear apart the whole store, we want to open with a wow factor,” said Oliver.
Working with just the shell of the building, they decided to incorporate new fixtures, new colours, new technology, new everything.
As a result, they are going to be opening a brand new store.
Prieur said the new design will feature a row of cashiers and one queue lane for customers to help speed up service.
The aisles are being changed to make it more customer friendly and the entrance will also be different.
Other changes include the auto service desk having a more open concept with sit down desks to serve customers individually. They also opened up the waiting area and added LED lighting to brighten the store.
“Any opportunity we had to make the store function better or work better for our staff and customers, we took.”
While the soft opening isn’t taking place until August, the first inventory truck has already arrived, and staff are getting ready to stock some of the shelves.
“Mission is going to be pretty happy when they see this store. I know they are anxious and chomping at the bit to get in here, but we are not going to open the store until its ready. It’s going to be nice, its going to be pristine,” said Ehrhardt.