"It’s definitely been surreal, to be honest. Our emotions from Sunday to yesterday to today, have been all over the place. Sunday didn't feel real at all.”
Darryl Janzen, manager of the Steinbach location of Janzen’s Paint and Decorating responded to the devastation of losing their building to a fire Sunday night in downtown Steinbach.
He says their alarm company sent him a message at about 3:20 pm Sunday afternoon. At that time, all he knew was that “it was just a fire that started at the pet store.” He immediately drove from his Mitchell home to check it out, not expecting anything.
“I didn't realize at the time that the firefighters had been in there (Janzen’s Paint) already since before 3 pm. When we got there, there was smoke coming out of the front of the building. They had the pet store door open. But when I got to the back of the building, our back door was also open and smoke was just billowing out of there too. There were some windows on the side of the building where they were already spraying water in, so I knew the back of our store was going to get water damage no matter what and that they were just trying to save it. But I have to be honest, not knowing what it looked like on the inside I still had hope that they were going to contain it to just that warehouse.”
Janzen says they continued to hope for the best until they saw flames on the roof of the building and then knew, it was just a matter of time before everything would be gone.
“So yeah, that was, uh, yeah, it's weird, my first thought was like, ‘Oh shoot' because I thought the flooring store was going to be ok because they (Steinbach Flooring Canada) were at the other end. And then, as the flames started moving and nothing was stopping it (the fire), of course, my stuff in the warehouses, I had lots of flammable items in there, which of course only helped keep the fire hot, well, it just kept spreading and it’s an old building too, so that doesn't help either.”
Janzen’s Paint and Decorating is a family business that started in a tiny shop in Winkler, Manitoba in 1992. The Janzen family then open the Steinbach Main Street location on May 17, 1999.
The move was a success for the young Janzen entrepreneur. Not only in sales, but Darryl and his wife, Alexandria (Wolgemuth) also met at the Steinbach store when she came in to apply for a job. The two married and raised their 4 children in the business, all have very fond memories of the second home.
When asked if anything like this had ever happened in their family-businesses history, Janzen says his grandpa owned the store in Winkler back in 1961, when an out-of-control fire burnt 8 businesses to the ground along Winkler’s Main Street. Even so, he says he could never have imagined what it felt like to lose his own business this way.
When it comes to how their staff are doing, Janzen says things are a little uncertain right now. He mentions they do have insurance and they are hoping they don’t need to lay anybody off. “Right now, it looks like we're most likely going to have a smaller version of the business, for now, so we don’t know yet if they can all stay employed. That I don't know for sure, but that is our goal, to try and at least keep our staff employed.”
Janzen says there are definitely mixed emotions his staff is working through. “There's been a lot of tears the last few days, and we've all gathered by the building, especially on Sunday and Monday, with very mixed emotions watching this building, with all these memories that we've all made. But then having former employees stop by too, it's been special. A family atmosphere had been created over the years and you make relationships and it's affecting a lot of people for sure.”
Then when it comes to the public reaching out to Janzen’s family and staff, he says his phone had a steady flow of text messages coming in starting Sunday night and continuing over the past couple of days, along with businesses reaching out, offering space for them to move in temporarily or offering help of any kind. They very much appreciate the outpouring of compassion from everyone.
Janzen says he has also been in communication with the other business owners in the burnt-down strip mall, acknowledging that they have a really strong relationship with each other saying, “So we've been helping each other out. Seeing the generosity and outpouring of kindness from other businesses in Steinbach and then the whole community reaching out, even on social media and all the beautiful messages that people are sending, there's a lot of care in this community. People do care about each other.”
Janzen says, they will continue to serve their customers the best they can, bringing in products from their Winkler warehouse. He is also hearing of individuals that are driving to Winkler to pick up paints and stains etc, and he really appreciates that kind of community support. He hopes they can get a temporary location up and running in the very near future.
Janzen, his family and staff are extremely appreciative of all the support from the community as well as, “Those firefighters, they worked their heart out. Thank you to the Hanover and La Broquerie and of course, the Steinbach Fire Departments. To everyone who helped fight that fire. To see those guys work together was amazing. Just the efforts they put in there, staying on site for a few days. It was a definite community effort, so just thanks to all of them for giving up their time."
Janzen was moved emotionally when firefighters would come up to him and console him. "Here they are putting their lives on the line and they're coming to give me a pat on the back and saying they are thinking about me and stuff. And yeah, it's just a team effort. It was really good to see.”
For now, he says, “We don't know what is gonna happen. We don't know what the owners of the property will be doing, what that's going to look like when it gets rebuilt, and there's obviously lots of stuff up in the air. But yeah, the landscape of Steinbach will forever be changed.”