By Doug Livingston
Beacon Journal staff writer
GARRETTSVILLE: The building had been vacant for a decade when Stephanie Dietelbach, the former owner of One Real Peach, ripped out steel shelving, hooked up electricity and turned on the water last year.
On Saturday, all the blood, sweat and tears she poured into her first business went up in smoke, along with a dozen other shops in historic downtown Garrettsville. All but half of a two-story building, gutted by flames, and a one-story brick law firm, with a basement full of fire-hose water, had burned to the ground.
But Dietelbach, 35, of Bristol Township, is not shaken. She stood among friends and family Monday at James A. Garfield High School, where more than 400 volunteers, residents and business owners banded together beneath a “G-men Pride” banner.
“It’s not easy for us right now,” said Dietelbach, whose antiques and consignment shop covered her family’s utility and grocery bills. “But I’ve got a plan. I’m going to keep going. Rebuild. I’m going to stay in Garrettsville.”
While investigators have ruled out criminal activity and narrowed the origin of the blaze to the roof of the Johnson Hardware building, residents aren’t waiting to hear the exact cause of Saturday’s fire.
They don’t pander in speculation. Instead, they’re moving forward.
Inundated with donations and offers to help, Tommie Jo Marsilio, a former county commissioner, urged Mayor Rick Patrick to hold the community meeting Monday to consolidate charitable efforts and give business and property owners the legal and financial support they need to get back on their feet.
“I live in this town. This is my hometown,” said Marsilio, who rallied the crowd to their feet with each utterance of the G-men Pride.
The assembly was led by Marsilio, Patrick and Superintendent Ted Lysiak, who announced that the school board will donate temporary space at the Intermediate School on Park Avenue to displaced business operators. Chris Smeiles, the owner of another property on Highland Avenue, also has provided room.
As firefighters monitored the smoldering rubble, Rebuild Garrettsville — a Facebook page — began heating up. The page has averaged four likes per minute in the past two days, swelling to nearly 8,000 likes by 8 p.m. Monday.
The page, along with tweets at #Garrettsville Strong, tracks efforts to support local businesses and families affected by the fire.
From spring motorcycle runs to food drives to donations, the outpouring has been diverse and overwhelming.
Some suggestions are specific: A yoga instructor who grew up in Garrettsville and lives in Illinois offered to return home to raise funds through community classes. Others offered items for raffles — baked goods, homemade rugs, gift baskets and more. Still others, including a folk musician and an architect, offered their services.
Some simply wanted to help, but didn’t know how.
“They have a feeling of helplessness,” said Tom Mesaros, who along with his wife owned a tool store lost in the fire. Mesaros was shocked to see his business disappear in less than two hours.
Since then, he hasn’t been able to escape the generosity, or even pay for a meal. A young waitress at Cal’s Restaurant and sandwich makers behind the counter at the local Subway won’t let him.
“This small town loves each other. We’re so blessed,” said Mesaros, 61, a resident of nearby Freedom Township.
“I see all these people in here that came into the store,” Mesaros, who sat next to his wife, Brenda, said at the assembly. “It’s heartwarming.”
The assembly broke into groups for volunteers, affected business and property owners, and residents interested in helping with fundraisers or making donations. All efforts will be coordinated through the Garrettsville Area Chamber of Commerce, which hosts up-to-date information on its website, garrettsvillehiramarea.com/how-can-i-help.html.
All donations are to be funneled into an account and administered by a board of directors, Marsilio said.
Michelle Zivoder, owner and editor of the Weekly Villager and the secretary of the Chamber of Commerce, said that by Wednesday the website should have a working portal where volunteers can register events to ensure that all money helps the cause and is distributed to those who need it most.
Doug Livingston can be reached at 330-996-3792 or firstname.lastname@example.org.