A fire roared through a series of storefronts in north Minneapolis late Saturday night, leaving a foul-smelling pile of rubble and timbers where several businesses had stood.
It also left David Walker, 50, owner of the burned-out Boost Mobile franchise at 1223 Lowry Av. N., devastated. He was the one who first saw smoke — as he was driving by about 10 p.m. — and called 911.
By Sunday, Walker was wishing he had dashed in the building and saved at least one of the four laptops containing all of his contacts and databases before they were consumed by flames.
“It never dawned on me,” he said.
Minneapolis fire officials said the fire broke out in the basement of one of the buildings, then ignited neighboring buildings, which housed a hair salon and a vacant print shop. No damage estimates were available Sunday and no one would speculate on a cause, although Walker said he had worried that the old, dry paper stored in the former print shop was a fire hazard.
“An accident waiting to happen,” Walker called it.
The three buildings nearest the corner of Fremont Avenue and Lowry were a total loss. No one was in the building at the time and no firefighters were injured, said Assistant Fire Chief Charles Brynteson. He said the cause remained under investigation.
Fire officials said that all the buildings had been inspected within the past four years and no fire or building code violations were found.
Scott Godes, who owns a mattress shop in the building next door to the burned buildings, said he fears there was more damage to his building from smoke and firefighters’ water than from the fire itself. Godes said his building also has three upper-level apartments but they were not being rented at the time.
Walker said he awoke at 7 a.m. Sunday morning and went to the store as usual. Firefighters were still putting out hot spots, he said.
So he returned home, sat on the couch and turned on the TV. It was the first time he’d spent a Sunday morning like that in the past two years He’s usually at the store seven days a week, although the store was only open the first two Sundays of each month.
“It is what it is,” he said of the loss. “I’m still better off than some. I’m going to be OK with that.”
He opened the cellphone shop in July 2013, after several months of gutting and refurbishing an old office space with sweat equity and a little financial help. He had owned another cellphone store at Franklin and Nicollet Avenues in Minneapolis for a couple of years and sold that one to build the Boost franchise.
Although owning a small business hadn’t been Walker’s lifelong dream, business was good; customers came from all over the metro area.
“I couldn’t find a job so I had to create my own job,” he recalled. “It was something I had to do.”
The shop gave him “a sense of independence, being able to create some employment for others,’’ he said. “My piece of the American pie.”
Walker said he is “devastated at this moment. I have no sense of direction right now.
“I’m fairly strong,” he said. “But I’m not 30-year-old strong anymore. I have mouths to feed. I’m just not sure what’s Plan B at this point. I gotta [rebuild] because I still can’t get a job.”