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6 Months After Devastating Fire, Fleet Feet's Flagship Store Reopens

By Mina Bloom | February 26, 2016 6:17am
 Dave Zimmer, president and CEO of Fleet Feet, at the new store.
Dave Zimmer, president and CEO of Fleet Feet, at the new store.
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DNAinfo/Mina Bloom

OLD TOWN — Six months ago, an extra-alarm fire ripped through the building that houses Second City's offices, devastating not only the improv institution's workplace, but also the running store next door.

Though Second City grabbed most of the headlines, Fleet Feet's flagship location, 1620 N. Wells St., suffered from about $1 million in damages. For nearly five hours, water rained down from the store's ceilings as smoke crept through the doors, destroying every last piece of inventory.

"It was very surreal," recalled Dave Zimmer, president and CEO of Fleet Feet.

Now, after several months of renovations and countless conversations with the insurance company, Fleet Feet's Old Town store is set to reopen Feb. 27.

Many of the changes, such as completely redoing the walls, were necessary due to water and smoke damage. Zimmer said his insurance company covered the majority of the costs of the renovations.

Other changes, like reconfiguring the layout and adding a runner bib wall, were incorporated along the way. Zimmer brought the Nike shoe section to the front of the store and covered some of the walls in reclaimed barn wood.

"Essentially it's a brand new store," Zimmer said.

He said one of the reasons the renovation process took six months is because his team had to eliminate the smoke smell, which would creep in as crews continued to toss burnt material out of Second City's building for weeks following the fire.

During the closure, the store's employees were mostly moved to other locations, according to John Moloznik, Fleet Feet's head of marketing and sales. When it opened in 1996, the Old Town location was the first of what would become six locations throughout the Chicago area.

The Aug. 26 extra-alarm fire started in Adobo Grill and damaged adjacent buildings, including the Second City offices and Fleet Feet.

Moloznik wasn't at the store when the fire erupted, but he rushed there from Fleet Feet headquarters and recalled seeing smoke from Lake Shore Drive. When he got there, the scene was "like a movie," he said. No one was seriously hurt in the blaze, but three people, including two firefighters, suffered minor, non-life threatening injuries.

Standing inside the new store surrounded by new inventory and display racks, Moloznik said the fire, as unfortunate as it was, was an opportunity for a fresh start.

"We're still working hard to make it the same, but different. We want people to walk in and recognize their favorite store, but we want them to walk in and see it differently than they've ever seen it because we've been closed for so long. We felt like we owed them something new."

Zimmer said customers, vendors and other members of the running community have shown an "overwhelming" amount of support since the fire.

"Chicago is the best running community in the world," he said. "Runners are special people. They endure things together."

On Saturday, the shop is hosting a run to celebrate the grand reopening. More than 600 people have RSVPed so far, according to Moloznik.

The first 250 runners will receive gift certificates, ranging from $5-$500. Everyone who attends will be entered to win store items through a raffle. There will be food, music and beverages, including Goose Island beer and Crafthouse cocktails.

"We're a better stronger company for having gone through this unfortunate situation. We've said from the beginning that we just need to make lemonade out of this," Zimmer said.

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