Owners of a Steinbach strip mall that burned to the ground July 10th are still trying to determine what the future holds for that site.
The fire broke out mid-afternoon last week Sunday in a strip mall off Main Street. The mall, located at the Friesen Avenue intersection, was home to Janzen's Paint and Decorating, Best West Pet Foods, H & R Block, Investia Financial Services, Liberty Counselling Centre and Steinbach's Flooring Canada. The building was destroyed in the fire.
Vic Penner has been one of the owners for about 30 years. Penner says he first learned of the fire Sunday afternoon while watching his grandson's baseball game in Ile des Chenes. Penner says at 3:24 pm, he received a text message from a friend of his, who is also a firefighter, notifying him that there was smoke coming out of the pet store. Penner and his wife quickly drove back to Steinbach.
"Initially, we thought it might be something that the firefighters could handle or deal with," recalls Penner. "But it didn't take long and things started looking like we're in for a long day and a big fight here."
Hours later, the strip mall was a heap of burning rubble.
"It's a sad situation," notes Penner. "There's people that are going to lose jobs, hopefully on a short-term basis, their livelihoods as well."
Penner says the two anchor tenants on either end of that mall were large stores and finding a new location quickly, might not be an easy task. In some cases, these businesses might need to operate out of multiple locations until a more permanent solution is found.
As to whether or not they will rebuild at that site, Penner says he is not sure.
"My first response would be, sure, we'd love to accommodate our tenants," notes Penner. "They all want to come back to that Main Street location, every one of them."
However, he says for now the focus should still be on all those who have gone through a tremendous crisis and hopefully they are looked after.
"We as a community need to reach out to them," adds Penner.
Penner says the July 10th fire brought back many memories from when he was nine years old. He recalls in 1961 while living in Winkler, fire destroyed an entire block of town, wiping out seven businesses. Two of those seven businesses belonged to his parents and grandparents.
"This reminded me vividly of 1961," he says.
Penner would like to show his appreciation towards the firefighters, police officers and other volunteers who were on site during the Steinbach fire.
"There's a lot of firefighters that worked their buns off and did so much and we are so appreciative of what they've done," he says. "They saved a few other buildings just by being on it the way they were, and for that, we're extremely grateful."
Meanwhile, Penner says that strip mall was somewhat iconic in Steinbach, with its history dating back decades before he ever became an owner. He says back in the day it was once a Tomboy food store, later on, became Penner foods and then Stylerite.