Couple still counts blessings one year after fire

Published 12:04 am Wednesday, November 4, 2015

BEN HILLYER/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Darby and Dennis Short have spent the last year recovering from a fire that left their store on Main Street consumed in smoke. A year later, the store is reopened.

BEN HILLYER/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Darby and Dennis Short have spent the last year recovering from a fire that left their store on Main Street consumed in smoke. A year later, the store is reopened.

Some black soot still stains the hardwood floors on the third story of Darby’s on Main Street.

It was only a year ago Saturday that the entire third-story of the 1855-era building , 410 Main St., was completely consumed in smoke.

Dennis Short, who owns and operates the shop alongside his wife Darby Short, can recall the exact day and hour when portions of the shop went up in flames.

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“Nov. 7, 2014, 3:46 in the afternoon — that was when the 911 call was made,” Dennis said without pause.

It was his wife who first noticed something strange brewing above the store, which sells a wide assortment of clothing, furniture, gifts and locally made fudge.

Dennis said Darby just thought the suspicious noise was plaster falling from the ceiling of the third floor, which housed storage items and Christmas decorations. After all, the building has been around for more than a century, Dennis said.

Once Darby climbed the two staircases to the third floor, however, she discovered a relentless blaze. The fire was later traced to an extension cord powering a chandelier.

Darby wasted no time in trying to salvage their livelihood, Dennis said.

Since the day the store caught fire coincided with Angels on the Bluff — an annual celebration at the Natchez City Cemetery — Dennis said the store was busy with customers.

“Within 10 minutes, we found out what a well-organized mob could do if they had direction,” he said.

With approximately 100 people in the store, there were plenty of hands to grab merchandise and take it to one of the store’s other locations at 420 Main St.

“We didn’t even know these people, but they were grabbing whole racks of clothes,” he said. “It was really, really something. There were people we didn’t even know helping.”

By 6:30 p.m. the same day — with the help of some 30 firefighters and droves of locals and tourists — the fire was extinguished.

What was left, however, was a building heavily damaged by water and some smoke-stained merchandise.

Darby said although the road to recovery for the store appeared daunting, she knew a bright future was in sight.

“We have had a range of mixed emotions from thankfulness to exhaustion to making sure there was never a shutdown day,” she said.

The following day after the fire, Darby’s was almost completely moved to its neighboring location — despite losing more than half of its floor space. The original location boasts approximately 5,000 square feet, while the 420 Main St. location only has 2,000.

Dennis said before the fire, he and Darby had been relocating some of the store’s furniture inventory to 420 Main St.

They never expected, however, to relocate the entire store, he said.

The day after the fire, Dennis said, between 50 and 60 people showed up to help get Darby’s back on its feet.

The amount of community support, Darby said, was unbelievable.

While the couple sorted through legal documents and met with fire inspectors and insurance representatives, residents were there to lend a helping hand at the storefront.

“With everyone’s kindness and gift of time and prayers, it has been a great year spiritually,” Darby said.

And now, after almost a year’s worth of work, the couple can now call 410 Main St. home again.

With a nearly complete renovation, Darby said she felt a mix of relief and joy when she finally opened the business’s doors.

“The first Saturday we fully operated out of here, someone brought us a bottle of wine to celebrate,” she said. “We opened it and stayed here until about 9:30 p.m. just to celebrate. We didn’t want to leave.”

The way the community responded to the fire, Dennis said, mirror’s the store’s mission in several respects.

“Being back in this location, for us, fulfills our mission statement, which is for someone to walk in and whether they make a purchase or not, that they have a good time,” he said. “That we can do something to help them have a better day.”

As the couple sat on some of the store’s sofas Monday morning — their black Labrador, Mary Frances, curled up by their side — both agreed that the 400 block of Main Street might as well be their home address.

“(Customers) say it’s so good to be back in this store,” Darby said. “I say it’s good to be home.”