TELLURIDE – Bob Harnish got the first inkling of trouble in Telluride as he drove along the Spur to his job managing the Village Market at about 5:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 10 and noticed a large plume of smoke in the town center.
“I got about two blocks away and realized it was in the market/bakery area,” he said, recalling the first moment he began to realize that the fire he had viewed from a distance a few moments earlier was burning dangerously close to the grocery store where he worked.
The uncertainty about what he might be about to find gripped Harnish until he finally approached near enough to the scene to see that the Village Market appeared unscathed by the general alarm fire that only a few feet away had gutted its nearest neighbor and Telluride’s oldest eatery, Baked in Telluride, after starting late the night before.
Standing from his vantage point at the Wilkinson Public Library cater-corner to the scene Harnish was able to breath a measured sigh of relief.
“I could see that the market was preserved,” he explained. “I thought, ‘That’s really horrible for Jerry [Greene, proprietor of B.I.T.], but thank God the market was spared,’” he remembered.
“From the extent of the fire it was incredible,” he said, describing how the Telluride Fire Protection District firefighters defended the downtown grocery story from encroaching flames by creating a curtain of water between the two buildings.
“Their knowledge and experience is what saved it,” Harnish said. “It is really a miracle because of the proximity of the two buildings.”
But the miracles didn’t stop there.
Within a few minutes of arriving at the scene Harnish found himself inside the market where despite the building’s services and utilities having been cut off while the fire raged next door, refrigerator and freezer temperatures remained within prescribed ranges.
“The integrity of the product was never breeched,” he said.
An employee at the scene unlocked the door for responders so they didn’t have to force their way inside, and the most disruptive damage really came from water that seeped into the building and collected some two inches deep in the store’s lowest spots, Harnish estimated.
Still, by later that same morning even the water had been cleaned up and the floors sanitized, he said.
Able to reopen the day following the fire, the Village Market sustained very little loss compared to what could have been, and for that Harnish is grateful.
“Our loss entailed being closed that day,” he said, explaining that he marked down time-sensitive perishables like meats to make up for a day of lost sales. Otherwise the fire affected very little in terms of lost merchandise for the grocery store.
The biggest challenge came perhaps from the assumptions of passersby that the store must be closed, but signs in the windows helped remedy that perception.
“We’re thankful and we’re blessed, the outcome could have been very different,” Harnish said.
On that note, Harnish moved to offer longtime B.I.T. employee Chris Jones, who delivered the bakery’s fresh bread and bagels to the Village Market and other stores throughout the region, a job shortly after the fire.
“I thought it was the right thing to do,” he explained.
And Jones is happy to be working again after describing the B.I.T. fire as “almost like losing a friend,” he said.
With B.I.T. gone for the time being, the Village Market is moving to fill in the gap for reasonably priced meals left behind in its absence. A new display case filled with bagels and donuts (HINT: try the chocolate-glazed raised donut dipped in coconut) begets a quick continental breakfast for just $2.
In the rear of the store the “Spotlight Café” continues to offers hot breakfast and lunch entrees where, “You can get a good, nutritious value meal for under about $5,” said Harnish.
“There’s a real need for that.”