GRAND RAPIDS TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — One day after a fire damaged a storefront and destroyed inventories at a strip mall just north of Grand Rapids, the cleanup process was underway.
The fire broke out early Thursday morning at Ken’s Fruit Market off Plainfield Avenue NE in Grand Rapids Township. Damage from smoke is impacting the market and a thrift store next door.
The Grand Rapids Township Fire Department said on Friday that its investigator had ruled the fire arson. The owner of the fruit market, Ken Courts, said he was made aware of surveillance footage that might show the person responsible. He has not viewed it yet, but is eager to take a look at it.
“It’s almost like a bad dream. I’ve been doing this a long time and never had a fire, so this is something new,” he told 24 Hour News 8.
The smoke from the fire left black soot throughout the store, so the health department says everything has to go. Store workers are in the processing of throwing out $225,000 worth of groceries and goods.
Still, Courts believes it shouldn’t be too big of a setback for business.
“Luckily, we just went through another store opening a few months ago on 28th Street, so we’re kind of still fresh from that. I don’t think it’ll be too bad. The fire wasn’t too bad. At least we don’t have to rebuild our building,” he explained.
There’s still a lot of work ahead, but Courts was grateful to know many people want to see his store reopen.
“You really don’t realize when you’re here every day and working and people are coming in, you don’t really see how they appreciate your store. And all of a sudden when something like this happens, you realize they really do and it’s a good feeling,” he said.
A nonprofit next to Ken’s Fruit Market, Africa’s Child Thrift Store, is also dealing with inventory loss from smoke.
“I wish you could smell in here because you can’t see the damage. Everything has just sucked up that horrible smell from the smoke,” store manager Cori Scholtens told 24 Hour News 8.
Rows of clothes, toys and household items are now worth nothing because of severe smoke damage.
Africa’s Child is not only a resource for the community: 100 percent of its profits support orphans and vulnerable children in Zambia, Africa. The shop relies solely on donations.
“We know that what we have here are grandma’s dishes and it’s your daughter’s wedding dress and your baby’s first clothes and that’s what’s heartbreaking to me, too,” Scholtens added.
SERVPRO of Northeast Grand Rapids is helping purify the air and clean inside the building. It’s also hosting a donation drive for the thrift store, aiming to help replenish the inventory that took years to build.
“Just a little bit of smoke gets up in there and it’s nearly impossible to get those odors out. Fires are very involved and there’s a lot of demolition and putting things back together,” production manager Ben Wilder told 24 Hour News 8.
The nonprofit is hoping that with SERVPRO’s help, it will be able to start over as soon as possible.
“When we don’t have those donations to be able to sell, not only can we not serve this population here [in Grand Rapids], but we can’t support our partners in Zambia. It’s overwhelming the idea that we wouldn’t be able to help,” Scholtens said.
That donation drive will be outside of the thrift store at 3482 Plainfield Ave. NE from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon. Donations being accepted included clothes (especially winter clothes), toys, household items, books and furniture.
If you can’t donate items but want to help, more information on volunteer opportunities can be found at africas-child.com.
Anyone with information about the fire is asked to call the fire investigator at 616.855.5810, Silent Observer at 616.774.2345, or the Arson Tip Line at 1.800.44.ARSON. The fire department said a reward of up to $5,000 may be available for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of an arsonist.