It has been a stressful 24 hours for Andy Campbell.
His shoe repair store, Tip Toe Shoes, has burned down Thursday afternoon, with nothing to recover. The store’s black and white cat, Jenny, is also missing. Campbell says Jenny, the star of the store, is usually seen resting in a garden near the building. However, after the fire, he could not find her there.
Tip Toe Shoes, at 141 Michigan Avenue next to Detroit’s iconic American and Lafayette Coney Island, has been in the city since 1995. It is a leather repair shop known for its “old-timey” aesthetic.
Deputy Fire Commissioner Dave Fornell says the fire was large enough to call in two companies. There were 50 firefighters in total at the scene. A cause of the fire has not been determined.
There were no injuries but Campbell is still in shock, processing the fire the next day as he nervously waits for his wife to leave a scheduled surgery unrelated to the fire.
“It is a day in my life where I can’t understand what happened,” he says Friday morning. “Total destruction.”
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Campbell tries to describe what happened but he says it went too fast: He was with an employee, Niecey Berry, when she said she smelled something. She raced to the back of the store and then turned to him, yelling it was covered in flames.
Campbell didn’t believe her at first. He couldn’t smell a thing, a detail he later attributed to the air conditioning blowing away the smoke from his part of the store.
“I’ve never seen a fire walk in like that,” he recalls.
Campbell rushed to throw water at the growing fire, but it almost seemed like the water was making things worse. The flame got hot at his skin and he was so stressed he didn’t realize he was getting burned. The smoke got too much to handle and they ran out.
Berry called 911.
Campbell said the firefighters came to the burning building quickly.
The loss of the store is a deep blow. Tip Toe Shoes is a labor of love for Campbell’s family. Cambell moved to Detroit in 1990 from Jamaica and has been running it for 25 years. His wife, who he describes as his “twin” with whom he shares everything, works on dyes and fabrics – a tedious job that takes a lot of time and patience, he adds. His daughter also works at the store and he says the three of them, with Berry, are a tight team.
They are hopeful that Jenny will turn up. The door was open and he is hopeful she escaped during the fray.
“I want to believe the cat got out,” he says. “I want to believe animals have a natural way out, sensing danger. And the cat smelled the danger and got out of there.”
Initially, Campbell says Jenny was thrust upon by his wife but he slowly grew to love the cat. Luckily, a lot of Tip Toes’ customers are cat people, too. She has a calming presence in the store, sitting on customers laps and posing for pictures.
“Customers come in, ignore me and just talk to the cat,” he says. “The cat has her own clients.”
Campbell is already thinking about recovery, ready to stay in the same building. He is grateful to his customers for supporting him over the years and hopes they will continue to come to the store.
“I’m a survivor, you know? It’s not how you fall, it’s how fast you get up,” he says. “I have to open the store and go back into the races.”
Nisa Khan is a data intern for the Detroit Free Press. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow her on Twitter @mnisakhan. Allie Gross contributed to this report.