WELLSTON — It has been roughly one month since an iconic Northern Michigan landmark burned to the ground and many still are upset about the loss of the Dublin General Store.
In a press release issued last month from the office of Manistee County Sheriff John O’Hagan, it was determined the fire at the store was not an accident. The press release also said the fire investigator was on the scene on Aug. 31 to begin the initial investigation and returned on Sept. 2 with an accelerant sniffing dog to investigate the site further.
As of Monday, the Manistee County Sheriff’s Office had nothing new to report other than the Dublin General Store fire remains under investigation. While questions about who caused the fire remain, the Fischer family, who has owned the store since 1935, is ready to rebuild.
During the early morning hours of Aug. 31, Greg Fischer said he could hear the store’s fire alarm from his house. He immediately went to the store and once there he could see the fire was burning. He quickly returned home, grabbed his phone and went back to the store.
He called 911 to make sure they were aware of the fire and shortly thereafter, fire trucks started arriving.
“At first, it was just the front of the hardware store and I was hopeful the grocery store could be saved,‘ he said.
He said that hope soon was lost.
The roof of the store prevented water from getting into it when it rained and it also prevented the water from fire hoses getting at the fire. With the firefighters unable to enter the building, it spread. Fischer said the fire reached the 20-pound refillable propane tanks. Then it got to the ammunition the store sold. Fischer said between the propane tanks and ammo “cooking off‘ it sounded like bombs and machine gun fire.
“It just provided more fuel for the fire. It continued to spread and moved into the grocery store,‘ Fischer said. “It was a day that I never imagined would happen. For my wife (Bonnie) and me, it has been our life, our hobby, and our work for 45 years. You are watching this happen and you think it can’t be real, but it obviously was.‘
Roughly 100 or so miles to the south of the Dublin General Store in Grand Rapids, Troy Fischer was sleeping. Every night before he goes to bed, Troy Fischer turns his phone off.
He remembered the morning of Aug. 31 around 6 a.m. his wife was starting to stir and as she was getting up he turned his phone on. Once he did, his phone started lighting up. Curious at who was trying to contact him, he picked up his phone.
“I saw two text messages while my brother was calling me. My dad had texted me and showed me the store was on fire. I was half asleep when I answered my brother’s call and he said the store had burned down,‘ Troy Fischer said.
As a young boy, Troy Fischer said he started working there when he was 7 or 8 years old hanging jerky. He still is hanging jerky as he runs the Dublin Jerky and BBQ Store in Grandville.
He said when he went to the store on Aug. 31 and walked past the rubble that used to be the store and saw his dad — it was sad.
He said even retelling the story there is a lot of sadness he feels and with talking to customers it is almost like they are talking about a loved one or friend who was lost.
Troy Fischer said the store wasn’t the only thing lost in the fire. These items included signed boxing gloves from Muhammad Ali, a signed bat from Al Kaline, roughly 500 pounds of change and vintage beer mirrors.
Fire crews were dispatched at 2:59 a.m. on Aug. 31 and the first fire engine arrived on scene at 3:06 a.m., according to comments made in August by Norman Township Fire Chief Gary Melzer. Since fire crews were unable to enter the building, he also said it was difficult to fight the fire until they could start pulling down walls using an excavator. In total, nine different departments, including South Branch Township in Wexford County, responded to the fire.
Manistee Township also assisted and used its aerial device which helped to save the storage building located behind the general store itself, Melzer said. An estimated 300,000 gallons were used to fight the fire.
While many unknowns surround the Dublin General Store fire, Greg Fischer said he is not letting it consume him. He has already forgiven the person who set the fire.
Instead, Greg Fischer is looking toward to the future and that future includes a bigger and better Dublin General Store.
“I’ve moved past the point of having hard feelings against someone. It is a mystery as to what would cause someone to do that,‘ he said. “We tried to be good neighbors and it is our customers who built this business. The community has been good to us and we have given back.‘
He said he is thankful he had insurance and even more thankful he carried insurance to protect his employees’ wages. He not only carried insurance to cover the building and its content, but also payrolls. He said he took on that added cost because he views his employees as important and instrumental to the business.
He also said the process of rebuilding is a chance to double-down on things the store did right, as well as an opportunity to change what didn’t work. The rebuilding process also brings the opportunity to add products and services.
“We are still in the planning phase. We are looking at different ideas, meeting with builders and suppliers. We are open to any suggestions,‘ he said. “We will be putting it on our social media to find out what our customers would like us to do.‘
The goal is to have the store reopened by spring but whether that is feasible is another question, Greg Fischer said. While he can’t give an actual date for reopening, he said they want to be open as soon as possible.
NOT THE FIRST TIME THE STORE BURNED
The Aug. 31 fire wasn’t the first time the Dublin General Store burned and had to be rebuilt.
In 1963, Greg Fischer said the original Dublin General Store his grandparents built burned down on the Fourth of July. He said the old, wooden structure was replaced with a cement block building. It reopened on Nov. 15, 1963, in time for the firearm deer season.
Greg Fischer said the cause of the fire in 1963 was believed to have been the result of an electrical malfunction. In 1966, he said his father took ownership of the store. It was at that time the store started expanding, including the addition of the hardware store.
SHOW YOUR SUPPORT
Greg Fischer said Irons business O’Keefe’s Reef has stepped forward to make #DublinStrong T-shirts for people to purchase.
The aim is not to financially support O’Keefe’s Reef or The Dublin General Store, but rather the firefighters who responded to the fire. It also is a chance to show solidarity as a community.
All profits will go to the Norman Township Fire Auxiliary and will be dispersed to all responding departments including Norman Township Fire Department, Dickson Township Fire Department, Maple Grove Township Fire Department, Stronach Township Fire Department, Manistee Township Fire Department, Eastlake Fire Department, Bear Lake Fire, and Rescue Department, Sauble Elk Eden Township Fire and Rescue, Webber Township Fire Department, Pleasant Plains Fire Department, and South Branch Township Fire Department.
T-shirts and hoodies will be available for purchase at O’Keefe’s Reef, 4488 Seaman Road, by calling (231) 859-4565 or logging on to www.okeefesreef.com.