What’s next for downtown?


MENDOTA — It is hard to not ask questions when walking or driving through downtown Mendota.

How did the fire on Illinois Ave. start?

Are all of the buildings going to be demolished?

When are the buildings going to be demolished?

Are the buildings going to be rebuilt?

What is happening with the businesses that were affected by the fire?

There are many more questions.

Not all of them can be answered yet as there are many steps, a process, the town and the state have to follow. 

But with the help of Mendota Fire Chief Dennis Rutishauser, Mendota Police Deputy Chief Tyler Kent, and the owners of the businesses, some of the questions can be answered.

“We’re still working with insurance companies and investigators,” Rutishauser said. “We’re hoping they will come this week. The road will remain closed. The demolition will not begin yet because the reason of the cause of the fire is still undetermined. That’s why we’re having investigators come and look at the buildings.

“The road is remaining closed because there are some loose bricks and we don’t want anyone to get hurt. It takes a while for something like this because we’re dealing with multiple insurance companies. For demolition, we have to check for Asbestos before we can take the ruin to the landfill. 

“This process is common. We were fortunate on the Main St. fire in August to get it to go quickly. We are also very fortunate the downtown fire didn’t happen the previous week. The fire would have probably jumped because of the high winds, and we would have had more buildings burn. Plus, there was ice, and there could have been injuries.”

Rutishauser said the demolition would probably not begin before the next three weeks as the insurance company investigators survey the buildings, look for a cause of the fire, assess damages, and assess the buildings foundation to see if buildings can be saved.

The old Meyers Furniture building, which is owned by the City of Mendota and Nightengales Thrift Store was using for storage, has a structural engineer coming the week of Jan. 9 to see if it can be saved. 

The building on the corner of Illinois Ave. and Jefferson St., which housed De La “O” Restaurant & Bar and the clock tower, is being looked at heavily for preservation as well.

Dale Simpson, the Illinois State Fire Marshall, is the one who placed the undetermined tag on the downtown fire, and he is the one with the authority to change the label and future decisions. 

According to Rutishauser, it will be tough to find the cause of the fire because the roof of the building that the fire originated in and the second floor, are in the basement of the building.

The police department doesn’t fight fires, but it does the research and investigating of a fire.

Kent said it is too early to tell what really happened and if there was any criminal activity involved.

“It’s still pretty early. There are so many factors and the state fire marshal, Mendota fire, insurance fire investigators are all involved. Our main thing is we do a lot of the follow ups with citizens, video, and interviews including the tenants and business owners.”

Kent said a couple of the upstairs apartments were occupied when the fire started, but they were quickly evacuated and there were no injuries. 

Although there were no injuries or fatalities, lives were changed as businesses have been closed and the owners have to find answers as quick as possible to decide what’s next.

Jerry Prokruski

Jerry’s Flower Barn

“We have no customers; nobody since the fire happened. And we won’t have anyone come. When they shut down Illinois Ave. nobody comes down the street. I have no income coming in and I have to pay the light bill and the gas bill. It happened when they were working on the street a year ago and now it’s happening again.

Lalo Delao

De La “O” 

Restaurant & Bar

“My grocery store and the restaurant were damaged by the smoke and a lot of water. The roof couldn’t take the pressure of all the water. The second floor is in bad shape. There was approximately four feet of water in the basement. The city told me there is a lot of damage.

“The damage of the equipment is around $53,000. The health department came, and we had to throw all of the groceries in the grocery store away. The total for the groceries we threw away is around $2,300, the meat is almost $11,000, and the liquor is around $7,000. It’s a lot of damage. 

See FIRE, page A5

“I thought about quitting and not having the store or the restaurant anymore. But people have been calling and saying, ‘You have to open back up. Do it. Do it.’ My wife, Adriana, and I still have the building across the street (kiddy corner, where they had their business 12 years ago) and it may be ready in three weeks.

“We are going to do it. We are going to open again. This entire week I’ve been working on the place and getting it fixed and ready. I don’t have any equipment yet because what I can take from damaged building is still over there. I can’t take it yet.”

Francheska Diaz

Cup of 

Knowledge

“My husband, Jereme Elam, and I decreased our hours at our jobs so we could spend more time at our new coffee shop. Now that it’s officially gone, we have to ask for more hours right after we told them we were leaving. I’m working at Blackstone School and CVS, and my husband has to go back to work when he was dedicated just to Cup of Knowledge.

“I would love another building if the opportunity presents itself. One of our initial goals was to have a food truck, which may be easier than having a location. We are going to see what opportunity presents itself first and what will be better for our family.

“We were not open yet and we didn’t have a set date because we were still remodeling. We had contractors take measurements just before the fire occurred. They were going to start working right after the new year.

“It really sucks. I’m really sad with how far the fire got. The first person to call the cops was my husband because he was working at the shop and smelled the fire. We owned all three floors of the building. We were going to move upstairs. That was going to be our home. Thankfully, we hadn’t moved anything yet. Hopefully the insurance people can speed this up so we can figure out what we’re going to do.

“We can’t do anything until we can get our stuff out of there and it’s on lock down right now. We have business and personal things still in there and we can’t go in the building.”

Kim Abel

Nightengales Thrift Store, co-director

“The city let us store furniture there (at the old Meyers Furniture building) while community service workers were cleaning out the building. We are waiting to hear the report about the safety of the building. Basically, all of the furniture that was in the building could go. No one is going to risk anyone’s life over the furniture. 

“We did store medical supplies there as well and I’d like to get the wheelchair and the hospital bed out. If anyone wants any of the furniture, they can have it. I haven’t been in the building and I was told there wasn’t fire or water damage. I’d rather someone take it rather than it be thrown away.

“Our board is thinking about renting a place to store furniture. We have to figure out what we’re going to do. It’s really nice to have something, but it’s up to the board.”

Jennifer Sibley

UJ Pets

“I’m still kind of in an awe; a blank. I’m devastated. I have mixed feelings about reopening. We were moving from the UJ Pets shop we had to two doors down for Fin Fur Feather Pet Shop. Both buildings are gone. I want to open back up but there are mixed feelings about opening up back in Mendota. I don’t feel like Mendota supported me enough and there are too many regulations and city ordinances on pets.

“I’m glad that most of my animals made it out. I personally only lost one animal (a baby Pacman Frog) and all of my fish, but Chandra Cearns, who I was partnering with for the new shop lost over 300 animals. She has a shop in Freeport and she had brought 99 percent of her animals to Mendota.

“I was allowed to go into the shop on Saturday (Jan. 7) and get anything that I thought was salvageable. I had over $1,000 of fish tanks in the shop. We emptied them and took them. The next day after the fire, fire fighters went in UJ Pets and were able to retrieve a frog, a baby turtle, and a bearded dragon that made it through the whole ordeal.

“For two years, I worked at Casey’s from 9 a.m.-1 p.m., delivered papers for the NewsTribune from 1-4 p.m., and then went back to Casey’s from 4-11 p.m. to get everything ready and have the money for my pet shop. It’s sad, it’s really sad.


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