Heavy Table contributor Kate NG Sommers was on the scene while the Blackbird / Heidi’s fire was still burning. What follows are her observations from the scene and after the fact.
Watching a fire burn can be mesmerizing. The smoke and crackling bring us back to a place that makes us feel comfortable and at home.
Take that feeling and flip it on its head.
Today, I watched with grief and a shaky hand as businesses I’ve invested time, money, and an empty stomach to, time and again, burn silently to the ground. I wasn’t sure what to expect to feel approaching the scene of not one, but two burning restaurants, not to mention one of my favorite locally owned sassy boutiques.
When I got the email they were in flames I rushed to the scene, repeating over and over to myself what I would say if I was to be pulled over: “But my restaurants are on fire….” As I approached 94 from Northeast Minneapolis I could see the newscopters headed toward the scene. From my 35W exit, I saw the smoke and immediately started feeling nervous, and jumpy… I was suddenly uncertain of myself as a friend and as a reporter. Should I be one of the people there? Will I be able to find my friends Stewart and Heidi (Woodman)? Will someone ask for press credentials?
I relied on my trusty GPS unit to get me there as quickly as possible and tested my “let’s hope they work” Toyota anti-lock brakes to get myself through the melty slush that is prominent in all corners of Minneapolis on a 38 degree February day.
I ran down the street to get a better view and surrounded myself with other onlookers. People asked me questions when I arrived, wanting to know if they were businesses of local importance. “Of course they are! Don’t you KNOW Heidi’s and Blackbird? They’re two gems sitting just minutes away from where you live! Where do YOU EAT?” I wanted to yell, but found my voice to be very calm. “Yeah, there were a couple of restaurants. My friends owned one of them….”
I trailed off.
An onlooker pointed out that I could get closer, and I walked away. I really couldn’t believe how close they let the public get and yet I barely took any photographs at first. I asked questions, and called in, reporting what I could see… trying to take in the magnitude of the blaze. I can only imagine the desperation in my voice.
For this block, it was over; these business are done… literal ashes! When (God willing) they come back, it will not just be a rebuild, but a rebirth. All I could think about were the owners. I saw a woman with a tear-streaked face in a vestibule across the street from the wreckage, only to realize minutes later that she was the owner of Blackbird.
I was seeking out a man in a cap. I wandered around, stepping over puddles of melt water and hoses, myself looking forlorn and confused. I finally found Heidi and Stewart. I was greeted with hugs of appreciation for my company, and lack of words. Shock would be the easy way to describe it. The discussion we did have revolved around thoughts of moving forward; rebuilding.
I was encouraged to get as many shots as possible and thanked for my presence. I went back to the scene and watched as the firemen and women approached a “passive” fire, one which could not be entered physically due to safety concerns. I watched as windows were broken with pressurized water from a fire hose and I watched as ceiling turned to sky as bits of charming aluminum moulding fell from above. I took my pictures… I gave my regards, and I left.
I still smell of fire, having not showered afterward. When I called my husband, he remarked that I seem depressed. I had no stake in any of these companies aside from personal allegiances. And yet I feel as though I’ve lost something. I suppose the loss of a good restaurant, great food, and friendly staff will do that to you. My thoughts are with those who suffered a loss in Lynnhurst today, and my thoughts will be there tomorrow. Those who know you will miss you, and those who don’t, don’t know what they’re missing.