Third-generation ice-cream maker Victor Nava scrimped and saved for more than a decade to acquire the business equipment that was destroyed in a fire at the Boise International Market in early September.
The Middleton man, who sells his Mexican confections as Andy’s Shaved Ice & Ice Cream when it’s warm and works construction jobs in the winter, estimates his loss at about $20,000. That doesn’t include the cost of adding walls, electricity and plumbing to his booth.
The Boise International Market, near the corner of Curtis and Franklin roads, was home to 16 small businesses. Boise Fire Marshal Romeo Gervais said the fire started in or near a trash can in the coffee shop at the front of the building. Investigators haven’t yet determined the cause of the fire, but Gervais said they don’t believe it was intentionally set.
Many of the vendors are refugees from Middle Eastern and African countries. Some lost everything in the fire — except for large debts on loans used to purchase equipment, inventory and decorations, Nava said.
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“Some people have a very big problem because they’re $30,000 or $40,000 in the hole. How do you repay the loan if you don’t have a business anymore?” said Nava. He considers himself lucky: He estimated he has less than $1,000 left to pay off a business loan. He also has a cart that will allow him to continue selling his treats in parking lots, fairs and other events.
Dhan Maya Subedi and husband Prem Hang Subba aren’t sure if they’re ever going to reopen their Bhutanese-Nepali grocery Gorkha Store. They estimate their loss from the market fire at $8,000 to $9,000.
“We had a loan to open the business. They told us we can pay after two or three months,” said Subedi, who has a job caring for people with disabilities. Her husband is working as an airport cashier, she said.
The Treasure Valley community donated generously to a GoFundMe account set up to help the vendors get by as insurance issues are sorted out. When the fund reached its goal of $50,000, the money was divvied up equally among the vendors — about $3,000 each.
Life’s Kitchen and Creating Common Good are providing kitchen space to displaced restaurateurs who need a place to cook for catering jobs. The business startup assistance program META is sorting through the many offers of temporary business space that came in after the fire and working with those who want to reopen their businesses.
A NEW MARKET?
The Boise International Market was several years in the making. While renovating a building that was damaged by the fire that burned down the Vietnamese Restaurant in 2010, Lori Porreca and Miguel Gaddi recruited a diverse mix of vendors to create a vibrant, multicultural marketplace.
Could it be rebuilt at the current location — or re-created at a different site?
“We don’t know about a rebuild at this point. We’ve been told that it can take up to a year to work through the insurance claim process,” Porreca said.
“Great cities have great markets,” said Nicolas Miller, director of economic development for Boise. “We had it here. If it came back, it would make our city even more vibrant.”
But the vendors are still sifting through the ashes of their dreams and just trying to get back on their feet.
“It’s a terrible experience. It hurts. Small-business people, we can’t afford these kinds of beatings,” said Ray Moser, owner of Moser Enterprises, as he waited to talk to insurance representatives in the parking lot of the market one morning last week. Moser lost $2,000 worth of sticker/toy machines and merchandise.
Terry Hathaway, who co-owns Joyful Tea with his wife, Karen, found that even the contents of their cash box were damaged. Now they’re setting up their tea shop at a new location near Glenwood and State streets.
“We are very close to signing a lease on a property,” Karen Hathaway said. “It’s significantly larger. We’re very excited about it, and we’ll be carrying an even larger supply of teas.”
Kibrom Milash is looking for a new space for his Ethiopian restaurant, Kibrom’s. In the meantime, he’s working catering jobs to bring money home. If it weren’t for donations to the market’s GoFundMe page, he and his family would be struggling, he said.
No matter what happens, Milash hopes that Porreca and Gaddi open another international market, he said.
“I’m in with them any time, any place — with the market, with the community,” he said. “Everyone is so excited to reopen again.”
BAGHDAD TO BOISE
Salam Bunyan and his family are refugees from Iraq. The professional chef said he volunteered to teach U.S. military forces about his country’s culture and customs in the early 2000s. He later served as a cook for United Nations forces in camps along the Jordanian border, he said, until threats and the murder of his brother made him decide it was time to move to Syria.
He and his family lived there for two years until a friend in the U.S. Army encouraged him to seek asylum in the United States. They were quickly approved, and in 2008 the family was resettled in Boise.
Bunyan was a cook at two local restaurants for about six years before deciding to launch his own, The Goodness Land. He and his wife have been spending eight to 10 hours each day looking for a new place to reopen the restaurant. On Sunday, he said he thought he might have found a place but hadn’t yet signed a contract.
For now, he’s doing catering thanks to Life’s Kitchen, a food-service training program.
Bunyan estimates he lost about $35,000 in kitchen equipment and restaurant items. He said insurance representatives are telling him his policy will cover $14,000 to $15,000.
The father of four knows that he could make more money running his restaurant in a larger city. But when his family has made trips to cities like Seattle to scout out the possibility, they always miss Boise.
“It’s quiet. It’s a great, easy town,” Bunyan said. “The people are great, that’s why I like Boise. My wife says Boise is like a family.”
INSURANCE: ‘IT’S COMPLICATED’
All market vendors were required to show proof of $1 million liability insurance when they signed leases, Porreca said. Liability insurance coverage protects businesses in case someone is injured. Gina Bessire, a project manager for the business startup training and assistance program META, said the market’s policy is what’s typically required for vendors at farmers markets.
Some of the vendors also got comprehensive coverage in case of a fire, or extra coverage on personal property — but not everyone.
“It’s complicated, the insurance thing,” said Cecelia Rinn, owner of StarBelly School of Dance. “There’s a lot of confusion about what insurance covers and doesn’t cover.”
Rinn ran a dance studio at the market. She estimates she suffered $7,000 in property losses, including 10 large mirrors, original artwork, vintage album covers and yoga mats, belts and blocks.
“I didn’t really think about fire. How often do buildings burn down?” Rinn said of insurance coverage considerations.
Boise firefighters were dispatched to 551 fire-related calls last year, including 70 on business properties, according to fire department spokeswoman Tammy Barry. No information was immediately available on how many actual fire crews found and fought from those calls.
Abdul Mukomwa, owner of Loba African Fashion and Fresh Produce, said he lost $50,000 worth of clothes and vegetables that his liability insurance won’t cover. He worked more than a decade as a supervisor in a cleaning job to raise the money for his business.
Now he’s turning to family for loans, and the community for donations for his store: a mannequin, a display, anything, he said.
“But the thing is that even if I get the store, I don’t have any revenue to pay the rent until I generate some customers,” Mukomwa said.