MAGNETAWAN – It has been a hard battle and almost a year has gone by since a tragic fire destroyed two Magnetawan businesses. The lots sit empty and the future looks no brighter.
After six years as owners/operators of the Downtown General Store, Tony and Sue Han have made the difficult decision to say goodbye.
It was during the early morning hours of July 30, when a raging fire leveled both the Hans’ store and the neighbouring Magnetawan Inn Restaurant co-owned by Carla Parkin and Rob Ewald.
Tony says they lost everything in the fire.
“We tried to reopen the business,” he said. “Everything is too difficult.”
He says the process is taking too long and, despite the fact that the insurance would pay to rebuild, his family still needs to make an income in the meantime.
The Hans still dream of returning to Magnetawan some day, and are thankful for all the support that they have received.
“We can’t ever forget anybody,” he said. “In the future, if we have any chance, I wish to return to everybody.”
For mayor Sam Dunnett, the news that the Hans were leaving is not surprising, but none-the-less disappointing.
The lot was sold to Parkin and Ewald.
According to Dunnett, the two lots are now up for sale.
“It was really unfortunate what happened to them. It was a terrible catastrophe,” he said. “It certainly hurt the town, there is no question about that.”
He says the business owners have moved on with their lives, realizing that rebuilding would be an enormous undertaking.
“The insurance made it very clear to (Mr. Han) that the people that they use for their engineered drawings, they couldn’t have them ready in time that they could have their store up for the summer trade,” said Dunnett.
He says that the loss of the two businesses changed the economic conditions in Magnetawan dramatically.
“Those two businesses would have accounted for at least 40 per cent of the trade,” he said. “They were also highly accountable for bringing business into town.”
Both the store and the inn were gathering places.
“It certainly was a hard economic loss for the municipality and the village. There is no question about it,” he said.
Dunnett says he hopes that someone will step forward and buy the two lots on the corner and establish a general store and restaurant, “where people can once again gather and have good, home-cooked meals like they have.”
He says that, although that is the ideal situation, it is a huge financial undertaking.
Dunnett says realistically, in today’s economy, he is not feeling upbeat.
“Simply because what’s involved. There is a huge monetary commitment,” he said. “If you are going to do this type of thing, especially in small town Ontario … these are commitments as much from the heart as they are from the wallet.”
He says whoever purchases the properties and sets sights on rebuilding, has to believe in Magnetawan, its people, and the economy.
“I’ve done a lot of business plans and I’m not sure how you would develop a business plan around that,” he said. “There is a very limited market and that’s every obvious. You need that summer trade to help you make it through the winter.”
Council is still working toward their visioning plan for the future, the final components of which will be brought forward in June, which is designed to make ways of the tourist dollars continue to flow into Magnetawan to help the businesses that remain.
“The whole thing was brought about because the tragedy happened,” said Dunnett. “When the word was out that those stores would not be built again there were a lot of sad faces, including mine.”
He says there is nothing council can do.
“It’s very clear in the Municipal Act that you cannot play favouritism with businesses, and there is nothing you can do for taxation relief,” he said. “There is really nothing that council could do.”
He says people were hoping, beyond hope, that the businesses would be rebuilt and everything would be put back together, which is something he says the community deserved.
“They showed that when the catastrophe happened and the donations that were brought into these people to help them get through some of the hard times,” he said.
He says the people of Magnetawan showed a huge amount of heart.
“But, again, you have to take a look at reality and it costs a lot of money to put in a store of that magnitude and try to make a dollar,” he said.
He says the donations that came into the town were disseminated to the business owners to help them through the tough times. Once a week, a cheque was issued to whomever the donations were earmarked for.
Dunnett says if he is to point a figure of blame in this situation it would be toward the insurance company.
“Not the local insurance broker, which is Stan Darling. They bent over backward to help the Han family get through the rough times,” he said. “The insurance company itself.”
Dunnett says if the process had been quicker, and the store could have been rebuilt in time for the summer traffic, there would have been hope for the Hans to sustain through the winter.
“The catastrophe happened with the burning of the building,” he said. “They definitely don’t need another catastrophe by opening up their business in the middle of the wintertime and then declaring bankruptcy.”