Nearby Business Owner Finds Silver Lining After Furniture Warehouse Fire

By Christy Aumer, Reporter

MARION, Iowa – One local business owner found the silver lining after a fire authorities said someone intentionally set.

Lemstone Parable Christian Store co-owner Janelle Pickering was stunned at the generosity of the people of Cedar Rapids the day after a fire at business neighbor, Iowa Warehouse Furniture and Sleep Center, at 1418 Twixt Town Road.

"One woman came in here earlier to buy some books, and I warned her they were going to smell. She said 'No, this is for you,'" Pickering said. "She wasn't the first."

Pickering said several friends and family members have come by the store Thursday to visit and even help her out with the store.

"There's a friend back there doing inventory," she said. She added they have many special orders to fill by Easter.

More than a few ServPro machines can be heard, and seen, attempting to clear out the smoke and water damage that was still present Thursday throughout the store. She said the store was not open Wednesday, but when she arrived early that morning, it was full of smoke and there were several inches of water present in the store.

"Right where we're standing there were two inches of water," Pickering said. "Some other places had four inches."

On the other side of the Collins Road Square furniture business is Brown's Shoe Fit Company. Employee Matt Lamm said he lives a couple minutes away from the shopping center, but didn't wake up to fire alarms or the smell of smoke.

"I woke up to a telephone call asking me to go make sure our building isn't on fire," Lamm said. He added the shoe store was open Wednesday, and he couldn't smell too much smoke or detect much water damage.

Marion Police Lieutenant Scott Elam said there was a fire wall between the shoe store and the furniture business but was unsure about the other side.

The furniture business still had several fluorescent signs in the window Thursday, including: "Everything Must Go" and "Retirement Sale." Lamm said he heard the manager of Iowa Warehouse Furniture and Sleep Center was retiring, and a new manager was taking over. "New boss, new inventory," Lamm said.

"I heard they weren't going out of business, but that's a quick end to a retirement sale," commercial real estate broker Van Miller said, who is currently attempting to lease a vacant space next door to the furniture business. "I don't think anybody would just go into a building for no reason and start a fire. Maybe somebody knew somebody, or revenge, either way I'm sure they'll get to the bottom of it sooner or later."

Lt. Elam said there's a lot to look into, and this is not something that is going to be resolved in a couple of days. He said crews responded around 5 a.m. Wednesday and were at the shopping center for several hours. Lt. Elam believes the sprinkler system kept the fire from spreading.

"You can see if there hadn't been sprinklers there it would've been a lot worse, a lot more damage from the fire," Lt. Elam said. "If the fire would've gotten to the book store [Lemstone Parable Christian Store], holy cow, it would've been even worse."

"It never fails to impress me. Those sprinkler heads, they detect the heat, hit a certain point and activate," Lt. Elam added. "You have to weigh the damage; you can have everything destroyed by fire or have everything wet."

When asked about the how officials determined the fire to be arson, he said he could not comment on this particular case, but said sometimes officials get in there and something just "doesn't look right."

"Like the point of origin, or it just looks suspicious. The way the fire was, or if you have several different places that are on fire and not related to each other," Lt. Elam said. "This is no different than a theft or any other case, it's just that this is a fire; it's a matter of looking into it. And we don't want to be too hasty or jump to conclusions."
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