AVON — For Stacey Powers, it’s a new year and a new start after a fire destroyed his family’s long-time business in Avon.
His family has owned the Powers Furniture and Appliance Store for nearly 50 years, with family members working for previous owners dating back 70 years. The business has remained a mainstay of this community of 600 residents.
“Kenny, my dad, worked here 52 years, and I’ve worked here 27 years,” Stacey said.
But the store’s long-time history went up in flames last March. A blaze left little on the large section of Main Street, which still remains empty.
However, the business itself has risen from the ashes. The store re-opened in early November at a new location across the street, in time for the holiday shopping season.
Now, a smaller but still vibrant store houses the business. The brightly painted and lit store shows a variety of furniture, lamps and mirrors in the front. Mattresses, other bedding and floor samples can be found toward the back of the building.
This week, Stacey Powers remained both smiling and hustling as he waited on customers and worked with incoming shipments.
The resurrection reflects the Powers family’s belief in Avon, fueled by the community’s encouragement of the family after the March fire.
“People have been really supportive,” he said. “They’ve been really good to us, and we appreciate it.”
Powers figures his customer base extends for a 60-mile radius, covering a large section of southeast South Dakota and northeast Nebraska.
“We have customers come from as far away as Verdigre to the south, Burke to the west, Parkston to the north and Yankton to the east,” he said, looking at an imaginary map in the air.
But all of it literally seemed to go up in smoke March 26, when Stacey received a gut-wrenching call at home.
“I got the phone call at 7:10 p.m. that smoke was coming from the store roof,” he said. “By the time I got down to the store, flames were coming from the roof. It wasn’t good, and I knew there was no way to stop it.”
At that point, a major goal was containment of the fire from spreading to neighboring buildings.
“We had seven fire departments here, and we had Yankton bring its big ladder truck. We’re really grateful they came,” Powers said. “They kept fighting it, but the fire was just too hot. And we had things (in the building) that were combustible.”
Another threat arose during the evening that threatened neighboring residences and even the entire community, Powers said. “We had the wind come up, and ashes got blown around town,” he said.
While saddened by the sight of the fire, Powers said he was filled with admiration and appreciation for the continued firefighting efforts.
“The Avon Fire Department was here all night and much of the next day. They kept watch on the ashes and hot spots,” he said. “And we had all these other departments that responded. The fire was so large that they kept running out of water and had to keep bringing it in.”
While some details may never be known, Powers said he holds a good idea of what may have caused the fire.
“The fire marshal said the cause of the fire was undeterminable because all of the evidence was gone,” he said. “It was determined the fire had started in the second story, in the ceiling. To me, it would appear it was wiring.”
Immediately after the fire, the Powers family — Kenny and wife Florence, and Stacey and wife Julie — dealt with its aftermath. They lost the building and inventory, but they also suffered the loss of a business that brought a great deal of sentiment and pleasant memories.
After talking with the insurance company, they were left with the decision of whether to invest in a new building and to restock inventory.
The prospects for re-opening and jump starting the business seemed daunting at the time, Stacey said. “We had no plans for building another store,” he added.
He remained busy during the summer, and customers continued seeking him out for purchases even without a building. In addition, Avon residents provided tremendous encouragement for the family to re-open their business in some form.
“People were so supportive and asked us what we were going to do,” Powers said.
At that point, he realized the community and others saw the store as an important resource. They wanted to keep a local furniture and appliance store, which has become less common in small communities.
The townspeople also didn’t want to lose a long-time business which not only provided a boon for Avon but also created an important draw of customers to the community.
A SECOND CHANCE
Then, opportunity literally walked through the door.
“Avon had a hardware store that closed, and the building had been purchased by a local group,” Powers said. “They remodeled it and turned it into a golf and archery simulator area. They operated it from January to April (2019), when the golf courses started opening for the spring.”
However, the owners of the recreational business also held full-time jobs and realized they didn’t want to continue with the time commitment for the simulator venture.
The owners saw an opportunity to sell the business while benefiting the community. They approached the Powers family about the building.
“In late August and September, they called and talked to us about buying the building and re-opening the furniture and appliance store,” Stacey said. “We said we would think about it. We didn’t want to just leap into it and get back into business.”
The sale offer made the idea of re-opening the furniture and appliance store much more realistic and attainable, Stacey said. Now, they could move into a remodeled building and begin with existing inventory stored in a warehouse, he added.
And so, the decision was made to leap back into business.
For Kenny Powers, the decision continues a legacy. He told the history of the business dating back to 1900 and listed the previous owners.
His father, Lester Powers, started working at the store in 1952, and Kenny Powers started working there in 1967. Lester and Kenny jointly bought the store in 1977, and Lester retired in 1984.
Stacey then joined the business, planning to stay part of the operation for a long period of time.
A NEW START
With the purchase of the new building, Stacey took over ownership from his parents. He placed an immediate deadline on himself.
“I spent October getting things set up. We aimed for opening the first part of November, in time for holiday shopping,” he said. “We had a good Black Friday weekend and a really good Christmas season.”
In getting ready for opening day, he faced one immediate change from the former store — a greatly reduced amount of space.
“Our old building was two stories and covered 22,000 square feet. Our new building is one story and covers 4,500 square feet,” he said. “But we’ve adjusted. We will do things like show one style of fabric sample over a chair or couch rather than have several of the same things on display.”
Customers can gain an idea of what something looks like, he said. If they want something different, Powers can get an item in stock or order new.
The new building offers one advantage over the previous structure, Powers said. “Now, our store is all one level, which makes it so much easier for our elderly customers,” he said.
If the store re-opened, Powers knew he wanted to keep a Main Street location. “It gives you a lot more visibility,” he said.
While happy to be back in business, Kenny and Stacey find it difficult to talk about the fire and the loss of their former building and its memories.
“I miss it a lot,” Kenny said.
For now, Stacey doesn’t hold any plans for the former site, which remains barren after the clean-up of the debris.
“Things are now reversed,” he said. “We were on the west side of Main Street; now, we’ve moved over to the east side. We can look across and see the site of the old store. It’s a different way of looking at Main Street.”
Last fall, the Powers family held a “Hometown Heroes” appreciation meal at the Avon Fire Hall for all seven fire departments that helped fight the March fire.
The gratitude extends to the surrounding area, Stacey said. “We want to thank people for all the support they gave us,” he said.
With flooding and other challenges, 2019 was a tough year for nearly everyone, Stacey said. However, he holds no doubts about re-opening.
“It’s been good, we have no complaints. It looks like a really good decision right now (that we re-entered business),” he said. “It would be nice to build on some day. We’ll see what happens.”
Regardless of what the future holds, Stacey said his family remains grateful for the outpouring of support they received during a roller coaster year. He now looks ahead with a healthy dose of optimism.
“We didn’t have the store all summer long,” he said. “We’re happy to be back.”
Follow @RDockendorf on Twitter.