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MINNEAPOLIS-A devastating fire a year ago was one of the bestthings that ever happened to Rose Rosenthal and herdiscount furniture store in Downtown Minneapolis.It was the Sunday after Thanksgiving last year whenRosenthal, whose family owns the 25,000-sf buildingRosenthal Furniture operates out of in the WarehouseDistrict, got the call in the early morning that herbuilding was on fire.

When she arrived some 20 minutes later, she saw someeight to 10 firetrucks with lights flashing in frontof her store on Fifth Street and First Avenue North.The firefighters told her they thought the buildingwas “a goner” when they saw the flames shooting outof the back of the building and the store inundated insmoke, Rosenthal says.

It’s every business owner’s nightmare. Fortunately forRosenthal, most of the fire was restricted to the backof the store. The building out of which her family hadsold furniture for the last 40 years was not a gonerafter all. That was great news because Rosenthal lovesthe building and the location in the vibrant WarehouseDistrict. More customer traffic is on the way once alight rail station is built nearby and theredevelopment of Block E into an entertainment andhotel complex is completed.

After she got her store boarded up and had contactedher insurance agents, Rosenthal had time to reflect onthe situation.Rosenthal decided she wanted to bring the store morein line with her vision–a fun, open store filledwith unique, contemporary furniture and unusualdecorative items. Encouraged by her business coach–akind of personal trainer for business owners–shefound an architect and developed a plan to play outthis vision.

She cleared out the inventory, hired a designer versedin feng shui, the Chinese art of interior design thatemphasizes spiritual harmony, to exorcize the”ghosts” from the old three-story structure. Then she setabout to remodel the store. Thanks to the loads ofinsurance her father had taken out on the building andthe business, she didn’t have to pay a dime of her ownmoney for the remodeling. By cutting back oninventory, and putting that money into a new storedesign, Rosenthal was able to rebuild and restock herstore for no more than the $800,000 coverage she hadfor her inventory, she says. The rebuilding took a lotlonger than she had planned. In deciding to totallyrenovate the store, Rosenthal had to bring everythingup to city building codes.

She recently reopened the store, and so far sales havebeen great, she says.Rosenthal’s advice for owners of small businesses andbuilding owners that have been a victim of fire?* Stay calm. Take a breath, step back from thesituation, and consider your alternatives.* Seize the opportunity. Especially if there isadequate insurance to cover property damage andbusiness interruption, owners can do the remodelingthey never had the budget for.

* Be patient. Take it slow. Ask a lot of questions. Ifyou are told it will take 90 days to remodel yourbuilding, don’t believe it. The timing depends onworkers, inspectors and codes, and to a large degreeit is out of your control.

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