In the weeks since Jill Hourihan stood on Natick Common watching her storefront business, Metro Pets, burn to the ground, the professional dog groomer has taken inspiration from a perhaps unlikely source: legendary TV writer and producer Norman Lear.
“Over. Next,” said Hourihan, repeating the quotation that she heard Lear say in a televised interview about knowing when to move on from a professional endeavor.
“Metro Pets is over. It is time now to look at what’s next, to constructively move forward.”
Until mid-July, Hourihan considered herself fortunate to be renting space in a 13,000-square-foot building on South Main Street, between Pond and West Central streets. She cherished the building she shared with seven other businesses, ranging from a Chinese restaurant to a Christian Science Reading Room, both for its warm downtown community ambience and its affordable leasing.
That ended before dawn on July 22, when fire ravaged the structure, destroying Hourihan’s business along with four others.
But in Hourihan’s view, what happened next only served to underscore the fine character of the community in which her business was rooted.
“I have received support of all kinds: from my fellow merchants, from my customer network, even from my insurance company,” she said. “The fire chief agreed to a private meeting to explain to me what happened, from his expert-level perspective. We’ve met with our state representative and heard from our state senators, and they have offered much more than platitudes: They’ve put tangible resources at our disposal.”
According to Natick Fire Chief Michael Lentini, the cause of the eight-alarm fire, which began in the restaurant King Wok, is currently classified by the state fire marshal’s office as “undetermined, but not suspicious.”
“It was a large fire, but it was contained to the structure of origin, and that’s key,” said Lentini, crediting his crew as well as firefighters from 17 outlying communities for their professional skills in keeping the fire from spreading to other buildings.
After two weeks of considering her options, Hourihan and her four employees found a space they were able to rent from a fellow groomer and are now looking for a new permanent space while also working toward providing in-home grooming services for pets.
Antonia DeMasi-Stockley, co-owner of Bruno’s Barbershop and Hairstyling, knows that she was luckier than most of her neighbors. Her barbershop sustained water damage but was able to reopen within about a week.
“Now it feels like business as usual, but people are still stopping in and expressing surprise to learn we didn’t burn to the ground,” DeMasi-Stockley said. A significant milestone came about a month after the fire, when the heavy metal fences blocking the sidewalk in front of her storefront were finally removed, allowing passers-by to see that the store was in fact open for business.
“I lost everything,” stated Deborah Smith, proprietor of Iron Horse Fiber Art. By “everything,” she is referring not only to the yarn, wool, fiber crafts, and craft supplies she sold but to the records of her business as well.
“My hard drive and all my computer data are gone. My insurance company has been wonderful, but just to get them the information they need, I have to acquire two years’ worth of invoices from all of my 32 vendors, and then go through all my daily receipts. I’m a pretty organized person, fortunately, but life for the past month has been all about paperwork and meetings.”
Meanwhile, Five Crows, a gallery and gift shop just down Main Street from Smith’s former location, has offered her basement space to continue with the classes she leads in knitting, crocheting, and spinning.
“I’m humbled by how wonderful Five Crows and the rest of the community has been, and I’m indebted to them for the outpouring of love and support,” Smith said.
Nancy Kelley, whose eponymous dance studio was perhaps the best-known business destroyed by the fire, is also hoping to announce very soon that she has found a new space. “It’s still mind-boggling,” she admitted of the day her studio burned down. “But I’ve tried very hard to put things in perspective. This was something that was devastating, but is not a tragedy, because it can be fixed. And it will be fixed.”
Hourihan, of Metro Pets, joined several of her Natick Center Cultural District colleagues in the days after the fire to create an interactive mural made up of messages of goodwill and hope which is now on view on the Town Common.
“The mural spells out ‘We Burn Brighter,’ said Hourihan. “And that’s what this experience has shown about our community. Together we burn brighter than any fire.”