• 79°

Demand for Darby’s confection keeps business busy even after fire

Darby Short mixes fudge at the 410 Main St. location of Darby's Gifts that was damaged by fire in November. The location will close for repairs after the year-end holidays, but will re-open in early Spring.  The business will continue to operate at 420 Main. St. (Sam Gause/The Natchez Democrat)

Darby Short mixes fudge at the 410 Main St. location of Darby’s Gifts that was damaged by fire in November. The location will close for repairs after the year-end holidays, but will re-open in early Spring. The business will continue to operate at 420 Main. St. (Sam Gause/The Natchez Democrat)

NATCHEZ — Call the timing of the fire a holiday miracle.

After flames ravaged the third floor of Darby’s Gifts and Decorative Accessories Nov. 7, Darby and Dennis Short didn’t have the time to sit back and be sad. The holidays were upon them.

The fire was Friday, and they were back in the shop making their famous fudge on Monday.

“If this had happened during a slow time, Darby and I would have been sitting across the street on the bench,” Dennis said. “But we have been so busy that we didn’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves — not that we would.”

Now they’re spending their days running back and forth across the shop, making sure they enough tins to fill with the fudge as Internet and in-store orders keep rolling in.

“The fire didn’t stop the orders,” Darby said. “It is still busy. People still want the fudge.”

While the fudge business is booming, the signs of the fire are still there. Streaks of water damage run down the wall, and much of the merchandise is spotted with dried droplets. The second floor of the 1855-era building has gone from stuffed with merchandise to holding only a few dozen items.

Out front, a plywood tunnel on the sidewalk serves to protect those who have to walk under the chute used to move fire damage from the third floor to the street below. Inside, all of the Christmas merchandise is half-off because of the water damage.

The fire was traced to an extension cord powering a chandelier. The wiring in the building was completely replaced when the Shorts bought it, and had been updated again in 1998.

“Our building was completely up to code, and I want the word to get out there because I want people to really look at how they are using extension cords,” Darby said. “It was just a cord that had gotten a little worn place in it.

For a time, everything in the store was half off as the owners worked to clear out as much of the smoke and water damaged merchandise as they could.

“During the half-price sale, we sold a principal amount of what was damaged,” Darby said.

“We had a lot of people who had mixed emotions about buying at half price. They would say, ‘I feel so guilty about getting this at this price because this happened to you,’ but we wanted them to enjoy the bargains and help us clear all of this out.”

Many others said they’d made a point to come by and show their support following the fire, Darby said.

While the main Darby’s location remains open for the holidays, some of the business’s operations have been moved from its 410 Main St. location to 420 Main St.

There clothing racks line the walls and furniture fills a mezzanine and basement area. A fudge cutting station stands just inside the door.

The 420 Main location was originally meant to serve as an annex to the Darby’s Furniture store at 427 Main St. After the holidays, it will serve as the main Darby’s store while the 410 Main location — the home of Darby’s Gifts for 26 years — is renovated.

The 410 Main location should be back open by early Spring, Dennis said.

In the meantime, the furniture annex is temporarily housed at 421 Main St.

“Our day is a lot like a track race, moving from one place to another,” Darby said. “I am out on a run all day long.”

After the fire, a lot of members of the community came by to express their concern, bringing the Darby’s employees lunch and asking what they could do to help, Darby said.

“We have had so many volunteer friends who came to help,” she said. “It has really been humbling to me how many people have helped us out.”

While people in town for the most part know what happened, out-of-towners still express their shock in response to the fire, Darby said.

“There have been a lot of people who came in from out of town and were very shocked and really scared we were closing,” she said.

“That has sort of been a little bit of a nice thing, knowing that people would be sad if we were gone.”

But while working around fire and water damage hasn’t been the easiest professional Christmas, Dennis said seeing the community’s response to the disaster has made this year a personally good Christmas.

“It has been a great Christmas,” Darby said.