Who are the tenants displaced by warehouse fire?
Published 1:35 pm Monday, January 22, 2024
A pressure-washing business, boat repair shop, gymnastics center and dealer in vintage Harley Davidson motorcycle parts are among the dozen businesses displaced by the Jan. 18 fire that destroyed a warehouse in Isle of Wight County’s industrial park off Benns Church Boulevard.
Since then, multiple online fundraising campaigns have emerged with the goal of helping former tenants rebuild.
Seven years ago, Trevor Hawley opened Motorcycle Dreams, an automotive shop specializing in used pre-1980s Harley Davidson motorcycles and parts. According to a GoFundMe campaign his mother, Lee Ann, started the day after the fire, Trevor started out in a 100-square-foot steel shed and later moved into two connected 40-foot-long shipping containers. In 2020, he moved into a 1,000-square-foot unit in the warehouse and later expanded into two additional units.
“Motorcycle Dreams was Trevor’s life dream,” Lee Ann wrote on GoFundMe, a crowdsourcing website for raising money for causes. “He has worked extremely hard to build this business. He put everything he had into making his dream come to fruition, growing his name and reputation in this market, and contributing to the community.”
Bobby Weeks, the owner of the burned warehouse, posted on Facebook on Jan. 20 that while he has insurance, many of his tenants do not, and have now lost their livelihoods.
Lee Ann’s campaign for Trevor notes her son was unable to obtain insurance on his inventory due to the difficulty in assessing the value of used motorcycle parts.
“He will have to start from scratch and rebuild his dream without any form of financial assistance available to him,” she wrote. “We are hopeful and determined to do whatever we can to help him bring his dream back and get Motorcycle Dreams up and running as quickly as possible.”
As of Jan. 22, Lee Ann’s campaign had netted 115 donations and raised $10,507 toward a $60,000 goal.
Brion Crews, another tenant, also lost everything in the blaze. For the past three to four years, he’s operated a mechanic shop, KeepItMovin, out of the warehouse. The inventory he lost amounts to “his life savings,” according to Brion’s brother, Barney, who’s started his own GoFundMe campaign.
“He poured so much heart and soul into that shop,” Barney told The Smithfield Times in a Jan. 22 phone interview.
Brion’s inventory included tools, car lifts and the office he’d built inside the rented space.
“There were things in there that had sentimental value that can never be replaced,” Barney added.
His campaign had raised $2,010 from 22 donations as of midday on Jan. 22, with a goal of $50,000.
Virginia Pressure Washing
Tim Nunez, the owner of Virginia Pressure Washing, is also chief of the Carrollton Volunteer Fire Department, one of 10 agencies to respond to the blaze.
“Thursday, a devastating fire ravaged my shop, leaving behind a trail of destruction and taking away almost everything we had worked so hard to build over the last 14 years,” Nunez posted to the social media website Nextdoor on Jan. 21. “It is an incredibly challenging time for my family and me, and we are at a complete loss for words.”
Nunez, in a Jan. 22 phone interview, said he’d been operating his business out of the warehouse for the past year-and-a-half.
“We cleaned commercial and residential properties,” Nunez said.
None of his equipment was salvageable after the fire.
Nunez was present at the scene in his fire chief capacity the day of the blaze and acknowledged his “dual interest” in the situation. He said he hasn’t started any crowdfunding campaigns yet.
Stuarts Marine, according to its Facebook page, has been family owned and operated since 2002 and until the fire had occupied Suite G of the warehouse.
Early reports listed the Stuarts Marine suite as the fire’s location, but according to the company, the fire actually began in a neighboring unit.
“When I arrived Thursday morning, I saw black smoke rolling out of Complete Auto’s shop on front side of building,” David Stuart, owner of Stuarts Marine, told the Times. “After I turned the corner to my shop, I noticed black smoke coming from my neighbor’s shop. I frantically ran inside my business and found smoke coming through the wall. I evacuated our shop just before my office and bathroom bursted into flames from the glowing red wall behind them.”
Stuart said he and his staff made the 10:20 a.m. 911 call that brought fire and rescue units from 10 agencies to the scene.
“We are a family business, started in 2004,” Stuart said. “It was devastating to lose everything we have worked so hard to build. This business was a major part of our lives; it supported our family.”
Stuart said he wasn’t able to save anything inside.
“We lost one boat that was parked in the shop,” he said. “Everything in our shop was completely destroyed. It got so hot all of the aluminum melted into puddles in the floor. It destroyed all of our hand and specialty tools.”
Stuart hopes to rebuild and has started his own GoFundMe page, which as of Jan. 26, had raised $2,140 of a $50,000 goal from 17 donations.
Bobby Weeks’ daughter, Lauren, started a GoFundMe campaign for all the affected businesses and as of Jan. 26 had raised $465 from 13 donations toward a goal of $100,000. According to the campaign, other tenants included an antiques dealer, moving company and drywall company.
An employee of Complete Auto, Andrew Walker, remembers a loud “bang,” followed by the sight of flames coming through the walls of the automotive shop.
“It blew me up against the door,” Walker told the Times after escaping unscathed the day of the fire.
Field of Dreams Gymnastics
Field of Dreams, a gymnastics center with more than 60 girls and boys ranging in age from 7 to 13 enrolled, had occupied its suite in the warehouse for less than a year prior to the fire. Before that, Field of Dreams operated out of the former James River Christian Academy gym that now houses Hampton Roads Classical, and before that had operated out of a cattle barn. Coach Barry Keeley told the Times this will be his fourth time rebuilding the gym at a new location in the past five years.
“Thankful that no one was in the gym at the time,” Field of Dreams Coach Barry Keeley posted to the gym’s Facebook page on Thursday afternoon. “We are growing fast and have become ‘battle hardened’ and we will fight on.”
In May, five of Keeley’s gymnasts placed in the top 10 in the All Around for their respective divisions in the AAU Age Group Nationals in Orlando, Florida.
“We are stunned and numb but our people have great faith and belief in what Smithfield’s own Field of Dreams Gymnastics Club is providing for the Smithfield children,” Keeley told the Times seven hours after the fire was declared under control. “This is both temporarily a setback but also a launching pad to providing even a greater opportunity for the children in the Smithfield area.”
Editor’s note: This story was updated on Jan. 26 at 12:46 p.m. with additional details from affected tenants.