Business owners still rebuilding a year after NW Portland gas ex - KPTV - FOX 12

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Business owners still rebuilding a year after NW Portland gas explosion

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PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) -

It’s now been one year since the natural gas explosion in northwest Portland that changed the lives of so many, and even though the rubble is long gone, some people’s lives are still in ruins.

The business owners who lost everything are still at very different stages of rebuilding. The blast either destroyed or seriously impacted more than half a dozen businesses, perhaps none more so than Art Work Rebels Tattoo and Portland Bagelworks.

“People seem to have this preconceived notion that your shop explodes on a Thursday and on Monday someone’s going to come write you a big, fat insurance check,” Kim Fisher said. “The fact of the matter is, we still haven’t settled.”

Fisher and Rik Bartel own Portland Bagelworks and literally lost everything when their business exploded, from expensive commercial-grade equipment and inventory to tax records and everything else one could imagine.

“Even the papers, all the information that the insurance needs. I can either sit at my desk and get them the info they need or I can actively be trying to rebuild the company,” Bartel said. “There’s just not enough hours in the day to do both.”

With insurance claims still pending, Fisher and Bartel haven’t been able to reopen a retail store. They paid out-of-pocket to get a commercial kitchen up and running in Tigard, and right now they’re only focusing on wholesale orders for cafes, coffee shops and offices.

It’s a fraction of the business they were doing one year ago.

“It’s been astronomical. It’s literally starting over,” Fisher added.

This last year has been especially dark for their family. Two months after the explosion, their beloved 21-year-old daughter Mikayla suddenly passed away from an unexpected stroke.

“I would like people to just pause and think about her for a moment,” Fisher said in tears. “For us in particular, just trying to go through the grieving process of losing our child has been sometimes just unbearable when you’ve also lost your business and your livelihood.”

MORE: Crews following new protocols one year after the natural gas explosion in NW Portland

Also inside the building that blew up was Art Work Rebels Tattoo. At the time, owner Jason Kundell’s wife was six months pregnant.

He lost 20 years’ worth of art collections, personal drawings and several family pets that called the shop home.

“It was an incredibly busy, stressful few months to say the least,” Kundell told FOX 12.

Kundell and all of his employees were out of work for three months while he worked to find another space where he could reopen.

It wasn’t easy.

“It was a very tough time because starting basically that afternoon I started seeing places to look at, and the economy was doing really well, and when the economy’s doing well there’s a shortage of places that are available, and to be honest, most people don’t want a tattoo shop when they can have a nice quiet architect or something like that,” he said. “So I got a lot of no’s, even with great referrals from the old mayor and great referrals from my old landlords.”

Finally, he caught a break.

“H&B reached out to me through my broker, and they said, ‘Hey, we know of your business, we know of your brand, let’s see if we can figure out something to make it work,’” Kundell said.

Through that avenue, he was able to open the doors at his new location on Southwest 3rd Avenue near Alder in February while he continued to work on finishing the inside of the space through the summer.

Kundell said that he, like Fisher and Bartel, paid out-of-pocket to get his business back open and is also still waiting on insurance.

“I just decided things would work fastest if I took the reins myself,” he said.  “I needed to get back to work for my family, and seven of my guys needed to get back to work for their families.”

With all he’s invested at the new site, Kundell said it won’t be possible for his shop to return to Northwest 23rd Avenue, the neighborhood where he lives and where his children go to school.

It still hurts walking by the site of the explosion where his shop used to be, but one day, he hopes it won’t.

“A lot of the emotions have come up in the last six months,” Kundell said. “Most of it is past and I imagine at some point it will be pretty close, but it’s still a little fresh, I guess. The wound still feels a little sore.”

Kundell, Fisher and Bartel all told FOX 12 how grateful they are for the support they received from the community in the weeks and months after the explosion, from people who donated money, time, labor and materials to help them get back on their feet.

Fisher and Bartel said it was especially appreciated, given how they felt they were treated by the entities involved in the explosion and the City of Portland.

“The shop explodes, [and the response is], ‘Oh my gosh, we’ve never seen anything like this before,’” Bartel said. “’You lost everything, yeah, wow. We should talk. Goodbye.’ And that’s it.”

While they hope to reopen another retail store in the future, Fisher and Bartel know there is still a lot of work that lies ahead.

PHOTOS: Gas explosion in NW Portland

Fetch Eyewear was another company inside the building that was leveled. Owner Ann Sacks lost all of her inventory and a cat that lived at the shop. Since then, she has temporarily re-opened her storefront in a new space a few blocks down on Northwest 23rd Avenue.

Sacks and her husband were also affected in another way, though. They own the building that exploded and the one next to it that was severely damaged, where they lived on the top two floors.

“It’s not totally destroyed,” she told FOX 12, looking up at what’s left of the building while visiting the site. “The walls and ceilings had to come out, the stone floors were damaged, but they still exist.”

Because the steel structure of that building remained intact, Stack said they are able to rebuild it exactly as it was before the explosion and hope to be back inside in about a year.

The property that was leveled on the corner was a historic building constructed in the late 1800’s, though, and design plans for its re-build will take longer to approve.

“It’s taking about what we anticipated, everyone’s been very cooperative and helpful, but it’s just not something that happens overnight,” she explained.

Plans have been drawn up for the corner site and will be shared with the neighborhood and the historic district in the coming weeks.

Sacks hopes to move Fetch Eyewear back inside once it reopens, which may not be for nearly two years.

The other businesses were also impacted by the explosion. Ritual Adornments Jewelry, which was also looted after the blast, still hasn’t reopened. Dosha Salon and Spa moved to a new location, and Moonstruck Chocolates is now continuing operations out of a food truck at the site of the explosion.

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