YAKIMA, Wash. — Brad Tidrick has spent his life fixing cars. On June 18, 2012, he saw his life’s work nearly wrecked to pieces as smoke billowed out the back of Tidrick Quality Transmissions.
“I don’t cry a lot,” Tidrick, 58, said. “That was one of those moments, my wife and I, everything we worked for was in absolute jeopardy.”
Such events can be disastrous for small-business owners long after the flames are quashed. Several Yakima area businesses have fallen victim to fires in recent years, with some choosing to rebuild and other owners remaining uncertain about their future.
In Tidrick’s case, the fire was the result of arson by burglars in the early morning hours at his Union Gap business on West Ahtanum Road, which he opened in 1992. The suspects took an array of items — from employee records to equipment — before setting a fire that would destroy the building’s offices, where the office cat Missy was staying.
“They could have at least got my cat out of there,” Tidrick said. “She just hung out and greeted everyone when they came in.”
The auto shop itself was spared, but Tidrick said keeping the business open while reconstructing the building impacted the quality of service to his customers. Even though the building has finally been repaired, he estimates that he still gets less than half of the business he had before the fire.
“It makes it tough to make payroll,” said Tidrick, who had to cut his staff from seven to five.
Furthermore, he still doesn’t know what the losses associated with the fire will cost him. He had insurance, but it didn’t cover everything. Adding up associated costs and the lost customers, Tidrick estimates the whole ordeal will have cost him about $400,000 before it’s all over.
“It’s just very frustrating not to have any control over what’s going on,” Tidrick said. “It’s so hard to be a business owner any more.”
After a spontaneous ignition in the kitchen of Geppetto’s Italian Bistro burned the restaurant to the tune of $1.2 million in damage early last month, owner Richard Paddock said the enormity of the situation still has him questioning whether he wants to restart his business.
“There’s smoke, water and fire damage, the roof needs to be replaced, none of our equipment is usable,” Paddock said. “My situation, I’m 72 years old. I don’t know what’s going to happen to be honest.”
An estimated 86,500 nonresidential building fires were reported to fire departments across the United States every year from 2009 to 2011, according to a study by the U.S. Fire Administration. Those fires cause an estimated 85 deaths, 1,325 injuries and $2.6 billion in property losses per year, according to the study.
Dave Hargreaves, a Yakima area insurance agent who deals with property claims, said he has seen the emotional toll such events can have for business owners who put so much into their work.
“It’s troubling,” Hargreaves said. “The insurance company can provide you the funding mechanism, but you can’t insure that absolute pain and the time and energy that goes into the resolution of the claim.”
Hargreaves recommends business owners find a reliable adjuster who can advance money on the claim and help with paperwork. It helps if a business owner has an up-to-date inventory list and has been diligent in keeping their facility up to current building codes.
He said the biggest obstacle for owners is establishing a business interruption insurance claim, which is separate from property insurance in that it covers the estimated lost income plus continuing expenses to protect an owner’s financial situation. It’s difficult because owners don’t always have the detailed records they need, he said, and that’s just part of how the estimate is calculated.
“It varies so much on the complexity and severity of the claim,” Hargreaves said.
In certain cases, Hargreaves said a business owner’s reluctance to start from scratch could make good financial sense.
“I’ve had total fire losses where owners got a bare piece of ground worth more than the structure,” he said. “Then it might make more sense to take the cash value as opposed to replacement costs and just cash out.”
As for Tidrick, he said he couldn’t bear to part with his business.
“My whole life was tied up in that building,” he said. “When I saw the damage, I almost felt the same as when my dad passed away. It was that emotional.”
His advice to anyone who goes through something similar is to slow down and not try to do everything at once. Nothing ever really gets back to normal after a fire, Tidrick said.
“It’s going to take a long time to get back to where we were financially,” Tidrick said.