Wisconsin Department of Commerce Newsletter
December 2006
Commerce Reps Meet With Fire Victims in Sharon

Destruction in Sharon

On November 19 a fire raged through the Village of Sharon destroying two historic buildings and damaging three others. A team of Department of Commerce (Commerce) representatives met with the victims of the fire on November 28. In attendance were Dave Martens, Area Development Manager for the region, Jack Sanderson, Bureau of Downtown and Community Revitalization, J.D. Milburn, Wisconsin Main Street Small Business Specialist, and Joe Lawniczak, Wisconsin Main Street Design Specialist.

Sharon, a Wisconsin Main Street community since 1994, sits on the Illinois-Wisconsin border approximately 12 miles east of Beloit. It boasts a cohesive and historic downtown and has a population of 1,550 people. The fire was located in the heart of the historic downtown and destroyed the village's only grocery store. Residents fear that without the grocery store, downtown would suffer greatly from the lost pedestrian traffic, and they would have to drive nearly 10 miles to Walworth for their groceries.

In what is a shining example of a community working together to help out, the owner of a building across the street has given the owners of the store six months free rent to operate a temporary grocery, and the owner has offered to drive the elderly customers to the Walworth store when needed. But Main Street staff members say that is merely a temporary fix.

In addition to the complete loss of the grocery store buildings, the adjacent buildings up and down the block suffered varying degrees of damage as well, ranging from smoke and water damage to portions of actual fire damage. The apartment above the grocery store was destroyed, which left three people homeless. Over 600,000 gallons of water were used to put out the fire, which left all of the basements on the block flooded. In the Opera Hall up the street, over 9,000 gallons of water were pumped out, and each building owner has spent tens of thousands of dollars on water removal so far.

Commerce staff provided information regarding building repair techniques, mold abatement, etc., and recommended that each affected building owner have a professional structural analysis done to make sure that what can be saved is saved, that damaged portions are stabilized, and that any necessary repairs are performed. They also offered affected businesses advice on salvaging or rebuilding their businesses and knowing what to expect and demand from their insurance companies.

But overall, it was a listening session to hear what these owners and the Village need. The representatives will now meet with other Commerce staff to come up with a plan as to how the Agency may be able to help in other ways, whether it be homeless assistance, housing rehabilitation, planning grants, revolving loans, or other assistance.

-- Joe Lawniczak

The newsletter is issued electronically every other month.

Please send comments or questions to Barbro McGinn, editor.

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