Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Phoenix from the Ashes

Sixty five years ago, Bill Palmer's grandparents first established the Palmer Feed Store at 912 West Church Street in Parramore. The business was passed down from generation to generation as the city of Orlando grew and developed. I remember driving past several times when I was sketching the Police Equestrian Unit heading downtown for a parade. I heard chickens clucking in front of the store. The place had a nostalgic feel.

On March 28th of 2011, the Palmers got a phone call in the middle of the night. The store was on fire. There was a firehouse only a block away and firemen smelled something burning and began patrolling the neighborhood. They called in the blaze. Bill rushed to the store. He could see the flames from many blocks away. An electrical socket had caused the blaze which burned out of control. It was a two alarm fire with chemicals and fertilizers feeding the intense flames. Everything was lost. The computer which had all the costumers and years of information was burnt as well. They had backup disks but they were also on site and burnt. Anything below the one foot high mark only had smoke damage.

Michelle Palmer related how over one hundred friends, neighbors, costumers and bible study group members showed up after the blaze. There were tears of hopelessness but friends held them and volunteered to begin moving things out of the burnt shell. Although overwhelmed by the monumental task of starting all over again, they found that assistance and unexpected aid kept them moving forward. When she got home after that first day, she found that friends had left flowers on her kitchen table. She still gets choked up just talking about it.

The fire occurred right after their peak inventory time. They had to pay off inventory that had been burned while trying to start fresh. Once the burnt product was moved out to the yard, the Palmers drove a mobile home into the parking lot and they sold items like dog food, bike tires and insecticides to local residents who relied on them. The first new product to arrive at the store were fresh green vegetable plants.

Friends and neighbors shared their gifts and talents to help the Palmers rebuild. Doors opened that they didn't know existed. They were told to apply for a grant from the City of Orlando and they got the grant. Thankfully the walls of the building were structurally sound. The front porch was rebuilt to look just like it did in 1947. Michelle was a full time mom before the fire, but now she is helping built and shape the business as they move into the future. The family had to re examine their hopes, dreams and passions. Merchandise that didn't move is no longer being stocked. They are carrying more organic insecticides and more modern, sustainable farming practices like hydroponics. She said the store plans to “honor the past while embracing the future.”

Folk art is now gracing the walls of the store. Behind the checkout counter there is chicken wire framed in reclaimed wood with photos from the store's long history held in place with wooden clothes pins. Each clothes pin has the year that the photo was taken written on it. A 500 pound concrete chicken will soon be perched in the yard next to the store. Michelle is now searching for rusty hand saws to decorate the store clock, and old vintage Orlando post cards.

Michelle and her family feel blessed. Friends and neighbors offered endless gifts and emotional support to keep her family's spirit lifted after the fire. The love shown was overwhelming. The outpouring of community support is something that has changed her family forever. Now she wants to give back and share the same gift with others. The store is celebrating its Grand Opening on March 3rd. There will be a ribbon cutting ceremony with Mayor Buddy Dyer and a City Commissioner. A local neighborhood choir will kick off the event and there will be music all day. There will be a food truck and free product giveaways. This business is back and better than ever.

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