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Opportunity Village looks to rebuild after thrift store fire

Investigators haven’t determined cause of Sunday evening blaze


Steve Marcus

A view of the Opportunity Village thrift store on Main Street Monday, July 12, 2010. The store was damaged by fire Sunday evening.

Updated Monday, July 12, 2010 | 3:43 p.m.

Opportunity Village Thrift Store Fire

Ed Guthrie, Opportunity Village executive director, talks to a reporter at the Opportunity Village thrift store on Main Street Monday, July 12, 2010. The store was damaged by fire Sunday evening. Launch slideshow »

Opportunity Village Fire

Firefighters battle a blaze Sunday night at the Opportunity Village Thrift Store. Launch slideshow »

Opportunity Village Thrift Store

A colorful 3-D mural adorning the side of the Opportunity Village Thrift Store glistens in the sun — one of the few unscathed items following a Sunday evening blaze that consumed the nonprofit organization's building.

Las Vegas Fire and Rescue firefighters responded at 5:55 p.m. Sunday to a fire at the thrift store at 921 S. Main St., as smoke from the blaze could be seen across the Las Vegas valley. Earlier in the day, a transformer explosion a block down the street shattered the store's front windows.

"It's just awful," said Stephen Miller, special events manager for Opportunity Village, as he surveyed the damage for the first time Monday.

Fire department spokesman Tim Szymanski estimated Sunday night that about 35 percent of the 19,000-square-foot building was destroyed, with smoke and slight water damage throughout the rest of the building.

Ed Guthrie, executive director of Opportunity Village, said two-thirds of the building's roof had collapsed by Monday morning. No damage estimate has been released, but the building was insured for $5 million.

Fire officials are investigating the cause of the blaze, as well as the cause of the explosion and fire at the NV Energy substation down the street and a gas leak at the intersection of Coolidge Avenue and First Street. There is no indication the three incidents are related, Szymanski said.

Despite the destruction, Guthrie said members of Opportunity Village are grateful it wasn't worse. Opportunity Village serves 900 people with intellectual disabilities, about 14 of whom work at the thrift store.

"We're just blessed that it happened when no one was in the store," he said. "You can replace buildings. You can replace stuff. You can't replace people."

In the meantime, Opportunity Village is temporarily relocating employees and trying to find a donated retail space where it can resume business during the rebuilding process, Guthrie said.

"The long-term plan is to rebuild — have the thrift store down here bigger and better than ever," he said.

The thrift store, which normally operates seven days a week, sells donated items such as furniture, clothing, TVs, household items and artwork.

Miller said the thrift store typically generates between $3,000 to $5,000 a day — money that goes toward programs offered by Opportunity Village. The thrift store, however, has lost-business insurance.

Even so, Miller said the fire destroyed a shipment of new furniture from the World Market Center and decorations reserved for this year's Magical Forest, a three-acre winter wonderland that attracts about 150,000 visitors each year as a fundraising event for Opportunity Village.

Miller said Opportunity Village clients — people with intellectual disabilities who receive job training and work at the thrift store — were saddened by the news of the fire at the store, a place they consider a second home. Some have worked there 10 or 20 years, and one person has worked there for 35 years, he said.

"The people we serve, a lot of them don't like change," he said. "The good thing is when we tell them they can't go to work, they get frustrated because they love it."

The Opportunity Village Thrift Store, one of the organization's oldest buildings, celebrated its 56th birthday this year. On Monday, the store's clients were temporarily moved to Opportunity Village's Oakey Campus so they can continue working and earning money, Miller said.

Click to enlarge photo

A sign is shown on the window at the Opportunity Village thrift store on Main Street Monday, July 12, 2010. The store was damaged by fire Sunday evening.

Miller described Opportunity Village as a "community atmosphere." Some clients receive job training and continue working for Opportunity Village, and others find jobs elsewhere.

Each year, Opportunity Village places about 250 people in custodial, food and housekeeping jobs across the community, Miller said.

"Everyone here gets paid, so they'll take that money and go to the movies, get pizza and put that money back in the community," he said.

At noon Monday, the thrift store still was under the control of Las Vegas Fire and Rescue. Charred remains and crunched store items — some with their tags still on — could be seen through the broken front windows.

Fire officials said a security fence will be placed around the building and a security agent will patrol the building at all times.

One northbound lane of South Main Street remains closed, as well as streets adjacent to the thrift store building, officials said. Southwest Gas was on South First Street on Monday doing assessments for any possible gas pockets underground.

Opportunity Village is accepting donations at its Oakey Campus, 6300 W. Oakey Blvd., so it can begin rebuilding its thrift store collection.

Miller said community support has been outstanding, with calls coming in all morning asking how to help.

"It's actually not surprising the amount of support we've received," he said. "It's just so heartwrenching."

As they wait for the cleanup process to begin, Miller said he knows one of the first orders of business: saving the mural that was put on the side of the building last summer after being created by Opportunity Village's art enrichment program in partnership with the city of Las Vegas.

"(We'll) take that down so it doesn't get damaged," he said, as firefighters examined the building.

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