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May 1, 2013

One year after fire, garden mart continues to rebuild

By Brian Louwers
C & G Staff Writer

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Cindy Roback’s grandparents started the business that would become Young’s Garden Mart & Christmas Fantasy in 1924.

WARREN — It’s safe to say 2012 was a year Cindy Roback won’t soon forget, even though she’d probably like to.

On April 29, 2012, a massive fire gutted much of the retail section at her family’s store, Young’s Garden Mart & Christmas Fantasy, on Ryan north of 11 Mile Road.

The business was founded in 1924 by Roback’s grandparents, Clem and Cora Young. The Warren Historical Commission recognized the family’s farm, which predates the store, with a historical marker in 2005.

“We lost all the hard-goods stuff. The Christmas stuff was totally demolished,” Roback said, working at the store last week as electrical contractors put the finishing touches on a rebuilt section that will soon house Christmas decorations of all types again.

Roback said the fire resulted in about $750,000 worth of structural damage and lost merchandise. Some of the things, including her mother’s original Department 56 collectables, were “irreplaceable.”

Two weeks before the fire, Roback lost her 37-year-old son Doug, “the store’s Santa.”

“It was like our Santa passed away, and then we lost the Christmas shop. It’s like we weren’t meant to have Christmas,” Roback said. “And then my mom passed away two days before Thanksgiving.”

Admittedly, Roback said there was a part of her that wasn’t entirely sure she wanted to rebuild the store.

“There was that little bit when you just want to chuck it all and say, ‘For what?’” Roback said. “My grandparents started the business in 1924. If they made it through the Great Depression, we could make it through the fire. They were my inspiration.”

Thankfully, the store’s greenhouse was left largely undamaged. Her sister, Beverly Harenski, was working at the store that morning and called 911 when she discovered the fire. Roback said the Warren Fire Department, and other area departments, responded swiftly and worked to save the greenhouse.

“If she wasn’t here that morning watering everything, we probably would have lost everything,” Roback said.

The fire was later ruled accidental, caused by an electrical outlet.

“The insurance investigators, their quote was there was nothing we could have done to prevent it,” Roback said. “It was an electrical outlet that shorted out. The wiring just went.”

The store was again open for business on May 11 last year — less than two weeks after the fire — and they were able to sell plants and supplies for the booming spring planting season, even though Christmas 2012 was a bust. 

A year later, the store’s greenhouse is again full. The newly rebuilt retail section is nearing completion and awaiting final approvals for occupancy. Christmas merchandise will then come back. And a fall grand re-opening is on the horizon.

Roback again pointed to her grandparents for inspiration.

“They worked hard to build it up in the community. We didn’t want to give it up,” Roback said.

She also thanked her customers for their support over the last 12 tough months.

“The community and customers supported us this past year. That’s what helped us say, ‘Yeah, we’re going to do this,’” Roback said.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Brian Louwers at brianlouwers@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1089.