Fruits of Labor

A "Now Open!" sign hangs in front of the Harris Teeter in the Barracks Road Shopping Center. Colorful balloons fly throughout the checkout area in the front of the store. The shelves are completely restocked with new products, and smiling employees stand ready to help customers wandering through the aisles.

But just days ago, the store was closed to customers as a result of a three-alarm fire that began early last Wednesday morning.

A faulty light bulb in one of the store's display cases caused the fire, said Tara Stewart, Harris Teeter director of communications. The fire prompted a response from nine fire departments in the Charlottesville area and forced the grocery store to close its doors to customers for a week.

Local fire departments only must respond to fires of this magnitude every couple years, fire chief of the Charlottesville Fire Department Julian H. Taliaferro said.

"They made a very rapid response," Taliaferro said. "They got in here and got the fire extinguished very quickly."

Once the crew cleared the fire operation, they helped the store employees with some of the initial water cleanup.

"There was a lot of water in the building," he said. "Six sprinkler heads opened, which put a lot of water in here."

After the fire department left last Wednesday, store associates literally were up to their ankles in water, Harris Teeter front end specialist Missie Keene said.

"They were on their hands and knees, scrubbing and cleaning," Keene added.

As a result of hard work from the dedicated team of employees at the store, Harris Teeter was able to reopen its doors yesterday morning at 8.

"I'm so proud of the team here in Charlottesville," store manager Jason DeLaurier said. "They were committed and pulled together. They came in on their days off to help clean up."

DeLaurier also said he was in the store around the clock overseeing the cleanup. As a result, the store was able to turn around and reopen in just seven days.

"Jason is probably the most dedicated store manager I have ever seen," said Keene, who has worked for the Harris Teeter franchise for 16 years. "He was in here 24-7. He stayed on top of everything. He didn't want to leave the store. He didn't want to leave the associates."

The cleanup was a group effort, Keene added. "It couldn't have been done without each and every person here."

Because everything in the store suffered from fire, smoke and water damage, all contents had to be removed. Because of insurance purposes, however, the amount of damage in terms of expenses could not be released.

"We were able to get all new product to restock," DeLaurier said. "Consumer confidence is very important. We are very grateful for our customers and their loyalty."

To thank customers for their patience and allegiance, the store is taking $5 off of every $25 shoppers spend on purchases. The promotion will run until next Wednesday.

"Customers are so happy we're reopening," Keene said. "They call it 'their Harris Teeter.' I spoke to one lady who lives in Lexington, and she comes here to shop because this is her Harris Teeter."

Andreas Stargard, a third-year Law student, started shopping at Harris Teeter his first year at the University.

"The Law school is so close that you can always drop in," he said.

Stargard also had an emotional attachment to the store.

"First year there was a birds nest in here," he said. "It wasn't removed soI liked that."

Although the bird's nest now is gone, Stargard has been eager for the store to reopen.

"I'm kind of excited," he said. "Though it's a sad thing to be excited about -- the reopening of a grocery store."

Although only a handful of vehicles were in the parking lot at 8 a.m. yesterday, the lot in front of the store was almost full by 8:30.

Two fire trucks and three fire SUVs were among the first vehicles to arrive for the reopening.

Taliaferro and several of his crewmembers were at the store when the doors opened.Knowing how much damage was done in the fire, they attended the reopening wanting to see the inside of the store for themselves.

To thank the Charlottesville area fire departments for their prompt response and hard work, Harris Teeter is giving them $5,000 worth of gift certificates."We were really thrilled when they said they were going to give us gift certificates," Taliaferro said. "It was just a nice gesture. They didn't have to do that. All the firefighters really appreciated that."

Harris Teeter also is donating an additional $5,000 to the Emergency Food Bank, which serves Charlottesville and Albemarle County. The store did not feel that the damaged products were suitable for donation. Instead, they are giving a cash donation to the Emergency Food Bank.

Mona Beard, a Charlottesville resident and regular Harris Teeter shopper, said that after hearing about the fire, she first wanted to know if anybody was hurt.

Her second thought? That must be an incredible mess.

Thankfully, no one was hurt in the fire, and the mess has been cleaned up. Harris Teeter is back open and ready for business.

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