One of Miami's oldest businesses, Anders Shoes, was totally destroyed by a suspicious fire sometime in the early morning hours of Tuesday, July 10.
Dena Ander, the 103-year-old owner, has had a horrible week that kept getting worse. Ander still opened the family-owned shoe store and worked in the shop daily. She has been working there since she was a sophomore in high school.
Anders Shoes was first vandalized, the front door glass smashed in with a heavy metal lock, and burglarized twice this week, on Saturday, July 7 and again on Monday, July 10. Ander believed the burglars used a set of stolen keys to re-enter the building the second time.
Ander found a large snake in her bathtub on Monday and her home has had plumbing issues on top of all the other ordeals she has suffered.
Miami Fire Chief Robert Wright said the fire call came into the Miami Fire Department sometime after 2:30 a.m. and all units arrived on scene minutes later finding the building at 27 South Main completely engulfed in flames.
“The call came in as possible fire and smoke coming from the building,” Wright said.
The cause of the fire is under investigation.
“It's suspicious, the back door was unsecured when the first police officer got there, so we're thinking maybe they had a key to it too,” Wright said. “A fire at 2:30 in the morning is suspicious.”
When Miami Fire Department units arrived the building was consumed by the blaze.
“They went in and tried to knock it down through the roof, and they had to back out because the roof was collapsing,” Wright said.
Anders Shoes and all inventory were completely destroyed by the fire, collapsing ceiling, and water damages. The building and contents are insured.
Adjoining buildings and businesses, Jeannie’s, Venue 29, and Larco offices all received substantial damages as well, but firefighters were able to save the structures and avoid destruction.
“Jeannie’s has smoke damage, but there's no water or fire damage to it. They were able to contain it to Anders Shoe Store,” Wright said. “Now, Larry Smith's Venue 29, the window on the north side when it vented through the roof it busted that window and they've got smoke and water damage in it. Their building was sprinkled and the sprinkler head went off and kept the fire from coming into their building. The windows are just right above Anders Shoes on the north.”
Wright said it has not been determined yet where the fire started in the building, or what may have been used to set fire to the building.
The Miami Fire Department kept firefighters on scene for precautions to watch for hot spots for a while longer after the fire was extinguished.
“When the roof falls down it's hard to be sure it doesn't rekindle," the Fire Chief said.
Firefighters responded from both the North and South Miami Fire Department Stations and the Quapaw Tribe Fire/EMS.
“I think we had 31 total firefighters respond, 14 from here, and I'm telling you, we need every one of them with something like that, “Wright said. “Quapaw brought like 15, we had 14, then Kyle (Captain Highsmith) and myself and we had a couple of ambulances there. The police were helping put the five-inch up lines, so everybody played a part.”
The large, fast and capable expert response allowed the fire to be doused quickly and saved other downtown Miami businesses from harm despite the huge challenges faced.
"Anytime you have buildings right beside each other it's so hard to protect those exposures on both sides and we were able to do that, and so I am very pleased,” Wright said. “Thank goodness no injuries occurred either.”
Like many others in the community, Wright, a lifelong Miami resident, was saddened by the loss of Ander's business and damages to the other businesses. Joe Ander started the shoe store in 1930 as a shoe repair business with his daughter Dena. The store has had two longtime employees working there with Ander, Phyllis Essex and Shirley Shelton.
“Dena has been there since she was 15. We feel bad for them and want to do everything we can do,” he said. “As bad as it is, I feel a little good about how it ended with what we had though.”
Miami Police Detectives were on scene early Tuesday, searching for evidence and conducting interviews and further investigating the fire.
On Thursday, Miami Police Chief Thomas Anderson said the criminal investigation is ongoing.
“We are gathering video from local businesses, and have not gotten it all,” he said.
Ander was shaken by the string of event, but friends and the community rallied around the beloved Miami business owner. Ander received gifts, flowers, visits, phone calls and cards and many condolences from throughout the community.
On Thursday Ander was busy with taking care of matters after the series of ordeals and trials.
“Honey, now the insurance company is ready to clean out the building. I have to call the excavating company and have them clear that out. The detectives were here last night and they let me know what I would like to have salvaged if it’s there,” Ander said. “That’s about all I know.”
Along with the devastating fire that destroyed her store, she has experienced more issues at her home.
“I’ve been without gas and water for two days, and Phyllis and Shirley are waiting for the plumber and gas company to come out. They’re either going to have to change the meter or tear down the fireplace. They know where it is. So, it’s been hectic,” Ander said. “Two robberies and a fire, that’s unheard of in a small town. It’s getting bad, but I know it will get better.”
Ander has been moved by the outpouring of concern and goodwill from her hometown, she said, “I’ve had so much good help, and people have been so wonderful and offered so much help. I love everybody.”
The community is curious as to what the tenacious Dena Ander will do now.
“Honey, I don’t have any plans. We’re canceling all my fall shoes, the girls are on the phone for that, and for the plumber, and the gas and it’s just been hectic. I don’t have any future plans, I’ll let you know if and when,” Ander said.
Anderson asks anyone with information to call the Miami Police Department at 918-542-5585.