When flames whipped down Fountaingrove Parkway in Santa Rosa and across Mendocino Avenue on Oct. 10, they left many businesses intact but hit Wine Country Bride, a bridal-dress shop located at Cleveland Avenue and Piner Road on the second-story of a concrete-block building, with scant fuel outside.
In the hellish gale, fire may have entered a side window on the upper floor. The business entrance, with bright blue canvas awnings, remains pristine. Barely 10 feet to the left of the doorway was a poster that read, “Love is a Journey.” That poster — crisped.
Last week, police had not allowed owners David and Cirkl Janowski into their business headquarters. The shop in the partially burned building had a 14,000-square-foot showroom with thousands of dresses and tuxedoes of every hue for brides, grooms, bridesmaids, groomsmen, moms and dads. During prom season, company staff bloomed to about 15.
The wedding industry draws on cultural tradition around romantic heat. But flames that hit Janowski businesses were no hunks of Burning Love. “There was a lot of damage,” David Janowski said. “They condemned the building” until engineers deem it safe to return. Dresses that survived unburned may have smoke damage or mold from water spewed by sprinklers.
The Janowskis, accomplished dancers who juggle raising two young sons, maintain several ventures at once. They hold a biannual Wedding Expo at Luther Burbank Center. At Ellington Hall a few blocks from the burned shop, they offer dance instruction and hold wedding-related events. “Ellington is in great shape,” Janowski said, but already three weddings were canceled, including two scheduled for the weekend after the fire.
Ellington reopened late last week. Janowski held a benefit dance for fire victims on Oct. 20. Swing dance became popular during depressed times, Janowski said, and jazz music sprang “from the worst possible times in people’s lives. When things are really, really bad,” dance can release angst, he said. “People shouldn’t feel guilty rejoicing for their life.”
The company’s billboard along Highway 101 to promote swing dancing was damaged when fire crossed six lanes. Valerie Evans, owner of the property where the billboard is located, died in the flames. Evans, 75, a lover of animals, had horses, goats, dogs and a black-and-white bull. “Everybody talked about that bull,” Janowski said. “I heard that the bull made it.” Evans perished while trying to save her animals.
“We are letting the shop go at this point,” he said. “We don’t think we are going to have a business when this is over.”
Wine Country Bride reached out to nearly 200 clients. “We don’t need our shop to take care of customers,” he said. “We are already working to help them. We are opening a pop-up office and shipping out dresses that were on order and hadn’t made it to the store. Every bride will have a wedding dress to walk down the aisle — 100 percent perfect.”
Trauma affects people in various ways. Some customers express trauma with anger and sadness, including concerns about money, Janowski said. “Some people have been able to fill themselves with love,” he said, “rejoicing that we are safe. After finding that Valerie died, it gives a whole new perspective. Fill yourself with joy.”
James Dunn covers technology, biotech, law, the food industry, and banking and finance. Reach him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-4257