When West View Florist owner Julie Wheeler first got the call that a car had crashed into the flower shop building, she didn’t think it was anything serious.
“The building has already been hit,” she said. “(The cars are) at the back and pushed around the corners and (we) had hit plows (on gravel) and broken glass. … It was a whole new level.”
Just before 4 a.m. on February 21, 18-year-old Maki Chandler reportedly fled from Indiana State Police after they tried to arrest him in a red 2011 Hyundai on Cassopolis Street in Elkhart. He hit an elevated divider, lost control of the car and crashed into the front of the flower shop, smashing through the showroom which was mostly glass windows.
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Police reported no injuries, and Chandler was later arrested and faces multiple felony charges related to the crash.
At the time, Wheeler was in Indianapolis and was on the phone with his mother and West View co-owner Judy Richter, who arrived at the building at 1717 Cassopolis St. shortly after the crash.
“She put the phone down while she was talking to (first responders) and I’m just listening and all you heard her say was, ‘Oh my God,'” Wheeler said. “It was just panic. She was in shock and she was like, ‘We don’t have a store anymore, the store is gone.’ »
West View Florist has been an Elkhart institution since 1913, providing flowers and gifts for community life events, from birthdays and anniversaries, to wishes and funerals. Wheeler’s family bought the business in 1975 and for them it has become another home.
“I grew up in this store,” Wheeler said. “They would take an old box and make it into a playpen and the stuffed animals that were for sale, I would get out of school in first grade and turn them into a classroom and play in the showroom – that’s became my playground. For the holidays, you didn’t just go home, you came here.
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So when Wheeler saw the damage herself, the thought of closing the business indefinitely never crossed her mind.
“It was always a rebuild in our head,” she said. “(It was a question of) do we have to rebuild it from scratch or is it a remodel? But we were waiting for those decisions to be made by insurance. Now we know it’s is a remodel.
The extent of the damage was mostly confined to the front showroom where the once large windows are now covered with plywood and the foundation bricks remain exposed. The old metal support beams are unshakeable and have prevented the building from completely collapsing.
Wheeler estimates she lost about $5,000 in flower merchandise alone in the accident, with the losses only increasing because other merchandise, such as gifts, stuffed animals and chocolates, shelves and a cooler were also destroyed.
Leftover flowers from Valentine’s Day only a week earlier, including roses, lilies and carnations, were donated to nursing homes and firefighters who returned to ensure the building was structurally sound.
Once the owners were informed that it was safe to enter the building again, the staff got back to work. Store manager Lori Wenger said that Friday the power was restored and she started getting calls and orders to fill.
By March 9, staff had built a temporary space at the front of the store which is now open and stocked with gifts such as soaps, jewelry, chocolates and stuffed animals. Flowers can be purchased in the back room. A piece of the red Hyundai is placed on the back wall of the makeshift area where workers who helped clean up signed their names with notes of good wishes and encouragement.
With plans to rebuild the front space, Wheeler will also reconfigure the showroom and plans to raise the windows to prevent further incidents of snowplows kicking up debris and chipping glass. Due to its historic age, the building was protected in its location when Cassopolis Street was expanded and Wheeler says this prevents them from moving the business further from the road.
“One of the requirements is that we keep the footprint exactly where it is,” she said. “We have no right to retreat. We have no right to change it. We must stay.
Services will likely remain the same with the rebuild, although Wheeler isn’t counting on any new ideas and special arrangements to offer. She said it was difficult to predict a timetable for when construction would be finished, but hopes it will be before Mother’s Day on May 8 on what is usually her busiest holiday.
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But since the crash, business has slowed down. Wheeler says a lot of people thought they were closed because the front was barricaded. A hand-painted sign reading “We’re Open” encourages those who stop by to enter the new makeshift entrance.
“We no longer receive the phone calls that we used to receive, and it is difficult. But I smile and try,” she said. “What else can you do but plug in, right? My doors aren’t closed yet.”
West View Florist is open Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Contact Mary Shown at 574-235-6244 and [email protected] Follow her on Twitter: @maryshownSBT and @marketbasketSBT.