Store reaches out after fire
WESTBROOK -- When Westbrook's only grocery store was destroyed by fire on July 5, quick action and creative thinking helped alleviate the mounting concern among not only Westbrook residents, but from grocery shoppers throughout the area.
Within days of the blaze that required the efforts of six fire departments, Maynard's Food Center General Manager Gary Thompson said a bus service was established to transport, free of charge, area grocery shoppers to the Maynard's store in Fulda.
"What we're trying to do right now is to soften the pain for our communities," Thompson said on Tuesday. The store's customer base stretches out to the neighboring small towns of Storden, Jeffers, Dovray and Currie and a large rural area.
The bus service is offered each day, Monday through Saturday, and leaves from Westbrook at 9 a.m. The service is especially helpful to the elderly and shut-ins, and also alleviates financial concerns for people facing higher gas prices and a longer drive to the grocery store.
"It's given these folks the means and the opportunity to be able to get somewhere," Thompson said. The first day of operation the bus had about 10 riders, he added, and they didn't just shop at Maynard's in Fulda -- several had checked out the community's other businesses as well that morning.
Beginning Monday, the store will offer a 10 percent off coupon in its circular for customers of the Westbrook store. The coupon, good on all grocery items purchased excluding tobacco and alcohol, will be accepted at all other Maynard's locations.
Thompson said future sales circulars will include updates on the efforts to rebuild. Meanwhile, transportation service will continue until the new, larger Maynard's store is constructed in this Cottonwood County community, population 755. There is no timeline set for reopening as of yet.
Thompson said the store's insurance agent and adjusters were on the scene less than 48 hours after the blaze was reported. By 11 p.m. July 7, the decision to rebuild had already been made.
Though a bit of clean-up remains and blueprints have yet to be drawn, Thompson said plans are moving forward to construct a roughly 10,000-square-foot building on the same site. To provide for the additional 3,800-square-feet of shopping area, Maynard's is in the process of purchasing the two buildings directly south of where its grocery store was located. The Westbrook Sentinel, which was adjacent to Maynard's, will move one door to the south, and the Sentinel building will be demolished to create the needed space.
"We are going to rebuild it as fast as humanly possible," Thompson said. "It's going to be bigger, it's going to be better -- it's going to be brand new."
That is good news not only for Maynard's shoppers, but for its employees as well. The grocery store employs 14 people, including both full- and part-timers.
"The employees will get paid the whole time they are off," said Thompson, adding that the store had business interruption insurance that will cover salaries for affected workers until the new store is opened.
Thompson said he has been overwhelmed by the amount of support and encouragement, and offers for help from the community since the fire.
"This was a tragedy for the community and a tragedy for us as well," he said. "I do think that the community has just been awesome. They're so glad we're reopening."
Thompson credited the efforts of the six fire departments that battled the blaze on a windy Saturday afternoon. He said their efforts saved neighboring stores and left only minimal damage to a building to the north.
Neither the fire investigator from Maynard's insurance provider nor the state fire marshal could determine exactly what caused the blaze.
"They'll never be able to determine where the fire started," Thompson said. "The integrity was ruined by the heavy equipment used by the fire department to contain the fire and save the buildings on both the north and south side of (Maynard's)."
If there is one thing to be learned from a tragedy like the Maynard's fire, Thompson said it is to encourage every business and every individual that has any personal property, of any kind and at any location, to videotape their belongings and keep it in a safety deposit box.
Maynard's Food Center opened in Westbrook in 1983, the second store opened by Maynard Kramer and Larry Larson. Larson's grandfather homesteaded the first grocery store in Hendricks in 1897, while Kramer entered the grocery business in 1974 in Elkton, S.D.