Fire burns two businesses in one
A fire rips through a fabric-cutting store. The fabric that burned may spell the end of another small business.
By MYDRIA CLARK
St. Petersburg Times
published June 25, 2003


ST. PETERSBURG - With tears welling in her eyes, Cindy Fletcher hugged one arm around her body and put her other hand over her mouth in disbelief as she peered through the back door to examine the damage.

Colorful reams of wet, sooty fabric were piled in heaps in the alley behind the strip of small businesses on 16th Street S. Inside, paint peeled from the ceiling and a thick black coat of soot covered the equipment.

A fire that broke out early Tuesday morning destroyed about $200,000 worth of fabric at Quality Cutting at 1627 16th St. S. A neighbor from Prescott Street smelled smoke and called St. Petersburg Fire and Rescue at 5:05 a.m. Firefighters arrived to find smoke pouring out the back of the building between 16th and 17th avenues S on 16th Street S. No one was injured.

Fletcher owned about 90 percent of the fabric destroyed by the fire. She is the owner of Can-Do Fashions, a small women's sportswear manufacturer. She contracts with Nathaniel Mack, owner of Quality Cutting, to cut the fabric for her company before it is sent out to be sewn.

Mack, who has owned the business for about three years, has operated out of his 16th Street S location for about a year. He was the only person who worked there, and usually kept to himself.

"I don't think I have any enemies, but you never know," said Mack, unsure about how the fire could have begun. Fire officials say they found the back door to the business open when they arrived. They suspect someone broke in and set some of the fabric on fire. The fire department is using St. Petersburg Fire Marshal dog Xena, a 4-year-old yellow Labrador retriever, to sniff for accelerants.

Mack said did not have insurance on the ruined fabric. Fletcher did, but once the cutter has the fabric, it's up to him to insure it. In other words, her insurance did not cover the fabric in the fire. With most of her stock destroyed, Fletcher said this fire may put Can-Do Fashions out of business.

"It's my fault," Fletcher said. "I should have known that. I should have asked."

Firefighters were able to contain the fire to Quality Cutting, and the adjacent concerns - Diabetes Intervention Prevention Porch Empowerment Resources and the Church of the Living God - were little damaged.

"The whole office was consumed with very, very black smoke," said Allene Gammage-Ahmed, who operates the PeaceSonian Spirit and Pride News three doors down from Quality Cutting. She said it took about three hours to clear all the smoke.

"I'm not certain if we're going to have to relocate or not," she said. Gammage-Ahmed is new to the strip of businesses and just started publishing the PeaceSonian this month.

The business district on 16th Street S has been an area of ongoing development. Businesses in the area have struggled to stay afloat over the years.

"A black man having a business on the south side is hard," said Mack, who's not the first to have a fire affect his business.

"A lot of time, energy and effort has been put into this area," said Askia Aquil, executive director of St. Petersburg Neighborhood Housing Services Inc.