Corner Bar owner after fire: ‘There were a lot of tears’

Corner Bar
Firefighters stand outside what's left of the Corner Bar in Rockford. (Frank Schmidt/Fsk Photography)

ROCKFORD, Mich. (WOOD) — A day after watching their business nearly burn to the ground, the couple who owns the Corner Bar in Rockford returned to the scene.

“It’s surreal,” owner Sarah Wolfe told 24 Hour News 8 as she looked at the burned remains of the bar. “It’s heartbreaking.”

Corner Bar
Left to right: Jeff Wolfe and Sarah Wolfe, who own the Corner Bar in Rockford.

The Corner Bar was gutted as flames tore through the building at the corner of North Main and Courtland streets Monday morning. Firefighters suspect what started as a dumpster fire grew dramatically when the heat caused an explosion in the building’s gas line.

No one was hurt but the building was destroyed as the gas leak hampered firefighters’ ability to squelch the flames. It took about three hours to get gas to the building turned off and hours more to knock down the flames.

The owners watched from across the street as it happened.

“When you’re watching and waiting, it is slow and it is very helpless,” Sarah Wolfe said.

“It was heart-wrenching, like you might imagine,” her husband Jeff Wolfe added. “There were a lot of tears.”

Initially they thought the damage would be minimal.

“As we sat there for a moment we realized that ‘OK, this isn’t so bad.’ At that point we had a burnt fence, a melted dumpster and some charred walls. We can deal with that,” Jeff Wolfe said.

But things escalated quickly.

“There was that explosion,” Jeff Wolfe said. “That was a moment — right there– where it was like, wow. It went to another level.”

Corner Bar
Caution tape surrounds what’s left of the Corner Bar in Rockford. (Frank Schmidt/Fsk Photography)

The Wolfes say there are many uncertainties about what will happen next for their business. But one thing they say is for sure: the Corner Bar will be back. They hope to rebuild in the same location with pieces from the original building, which was constructed in the late 1800s.

“We’ll rise up again. We’re really confident in that,” Jeff Wolfe said. “We’re debating what can be saved — what makes sense economically to be saved.”

As flames ravaged the building, Jeff Wolfe said his thoughts quickly turned to the people who worked for him.

“One of my first concerns was ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got 70 people that no longer have jobs,’” he said.

Tuesday, many of them had already found work.

“I had a great crew and I think they’re going to land on their feet pretty well,” he added.

Tuesday afternoon, Michigan State Police fire investigators were among those on the scene combing through the debris at the restaurant and trying to determine what they can about the cause.

Rockford Department of Public Safety Chief David Jones said investigators want to confirm that things went the way his team suspects. One of the facts they hope to establish is that the dumpster caught fire before spreading to the gas line, and not the other way around.

Jones reiterated Tuesday that there is nothing suspicious about the circumstances surrounding the fire, but a thorough investigation is needed because of the amount of damage. Insurance companies are among those who will want as much information about a cause as possible, Jones said.

The owners are anxious to move forward, but at this point they don’t know how long that will take.

“We’re eager. We don’t want this corner sitting looking like this for any extended period of time,” Jeff Wolfe said. “We’re going to do whatever we can to expedite the process and get hot dogs going again.”

Several downtown Rockford businesses will be donating a portion of their profits Thursday, Friday and Saturday to buy Meijer gift cards to be distributed to Corner Bar workers. The event starts Thursday with a Community Day. Information will be available at 116 Courtland St. starting at 11 a.m. Thursday. Also at that address, you can check out pop-up vendors and a craft table where kids can write thank you notes to emergency responders.

Participating businesses include: The Pump House, Uccello’s, Greenwell, River Babe Threads, Bailey & James Boutique, Sassy Pants, She Archive, Aunt Candy’s Toy Store, Lee & Birch, LA Miller Boutique, Full Circle, LBD Exchange and Haven Creek.

Additionally, Rockford-based River Babe Threats is donating profits from fundraiser T-shirts to the employees.

The Wolfes said they’ve been humbled by the community’s support.

“It’s staggering,” Sarah Wolfe said.

“I just can’t express the appreciation,” Jeff Wolfe said. “Thank you.”