From the Phoenix Files – Goodwill Store

The death of George Floyd on Memorial Day sparked nationwide peaceful protests and localized violent rioting in many areas of the county, including the North Central Region cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota. Even now – more than three months after order was restored in these Twin Cities, the devastation to local businesses remains widespread, persistent, and painful to see. But like the fabled Phoenix bird of ancient mythology, new life and vigor rises from the ashes, and the Goodwill store at 1239 University Avenue West in Saint Paul is an example of the ravages of uncontrolled mobs and uncontrolled fire, persistence and resilience, and another shining example of the value of fire sprinklers!

On the night of May 28th, the Goodwill store closed early due to the reports of approaching rioters. Just shortly before 6:00 PM, an unruly mob entered the store and looted extensively. They also lit several arson fires inside the building and in the loading dock area, primarily using cardboard and pallets for fuel. Units of the Saint Paul Fire Department arrived with a protective law enforcement unit from the Saint Paul Police Department. The fires had been controlled – and almost entirely extinguished – by six sprinkler heads. Fire crews remained on scene just six minutes before pulling out and departing due to active rioting. The sprinkler system was left running for 24 hours before fitters from J.F. Ahern could arrive and begin repair work.

J. F. Ahern employees used a forklift to break up some of the smoldering piles of cardboard and pallets and move them outside for final extinguishment. The main floor suffered extensive damage, primarily from looting, smoke, and broken windows.

The Goodwill store remained closed for 60 days to conduct repairs and to replace stocked items. The 43 employees of the store remained employed during the shutdown, and many were needed to carry out the restoration process. No one lost their job, and after a $1.3 million repair and renovation project, the store reopened triumphantly on August 7th. This store is a mainstay along University Avenue, and it is open and thriving today thanks to J.F. Ahern, the Saint Paul Fire and Police Departments, and automatic fire sprinklers!

In stark contrast to the thriving business at Goodwill, just across the parking lot, the adjacent business is a NAPA auto parts store…. or rather the rubble heap that once was the Napa auto parts store. That business was not protected by sprinklers, and looters burned it right to the ground. Two adjacent buildings…two dramatically different outcomes. One recovered and thriving….one destroyed, with employees and business revenue gone. The difference was automatic fire sprinklers; they were the crucial difference in this “tale of two fires.”