A local small business owner is encouraging everyone to shop local and support Kenora’s downtown core after another devastating fire for the community earlier this week, which has forced her own business to close down.

Owner of Poplar + Birch at 213 Matheson Street South, Ashley McKay, says she made it to the scene of the Hungry Pug Cafe around 7 a.m. after making the ‘mistake’ of not taking her phone to bed, something she says she won’t be doing again.

“We didn’t know if our building was burning as well. So, we went downtown and saw the Hungry Pug being torn down. It’s emotional when you see another business burn down. Part of the reason for us being there was that we had them as a neighbour,” said McKay.

The Poplar + Birch storefront is located on the same block as the now-former Hungry Pug Cafe building, but that section of the building was saved by firefighters at the scene. But as McKay notes, it creates one more void to fill in the community.

“There are lots of empty spaces now in downtown Kenora. It’s becoming more of a problem. We don’t want to be next door to an empty lot.”

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In an effort to help out a fellow business owner, the owner of Island Girl Kenora, Michelle Livingston, was at the scene early in the morning and joined firefighters and OPP Detachment Commander Jeff Duggan in helping to collect products from McKay’s storefront and protect it from the flames.

But unfortunately, McKay says after meeting with insurance agents this morning, those products are now deemed as garbage and must be thrown away due to water and smoke damage that was already done.

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She says she plans to reopen her storefront in the future but will be closed for the time being.

Ultimately, McKay says this is now the time for the Kenora community to step up and support our downtown core and local business owners in any way that we can, especially as we navigate away from the COVID-19 pandemic of the last two years.

“It’s so hard. We’ve dealt with COVID and closures. We’ve learned we are resilient and we can pivot, but it’s almost like, enough is enough. How much more can a small business take? We don’t have the funding that a large corporation has. We have what we have.”

“We’re trying to give back to the community. We employ your daughters and sons. We help out with little league. To get hit with that is just another hurdle. Sometimes, it just makes you want to throw in the towel.”

“But there is an importance in shopping locally. I feel now, more than ever, it’s time to step up to the plate. Please help in any way that you can. Don’t forget about us,” adds McKay.

An investigation into the cause of the fire is underway. Anyone with any information is asked to call the Kenora OPP immediately at 1-888-310-1122, or Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS).