The three businesses that sprouted up in the past year in downtown Backus were a sign of commercial growth in the small town, which hadn't had a new full-time business downtown in 20 years.
But an early Sunday morning fire destroyed the new Pine Mountain Fitness Center, Mag Computers and S.E. Web Design, three businesses housed in a former downtown grocery store that had been renovated.
"That was going to be my retirement," said Mark Gravelle, owner of the building and of Mag Computers, which was housed there. "There's nothing left, basically."
The fire was reported by a neighbor at 3:10 a.m. Sunday, said Backus Fire Chief Karl Flier. Firefighters from Backus, Pine River, Pequot Lakes, Hackensack and Ideal Township battled the blaze throughout the night. They were able to save the Backus Locker, a longtime downtown business located a mere 10 inches from the building, said Flier.
Mark Germain, deputy state fire marshal, said today the fire originated in the utility room in the building. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
Gravelle, a member of the Backus Fire Department, said the initial page for the fire said it was at the Backus Locker. It wasn't until he arrived downtown that he saw flames shooting out from the roof of his own building. Gravelle bought the building a year ago. It had been vacant for more than 12 years.
Gravelle said he's unsure at this point whether he will rebuild.
"They were doing well and they're pretty discouraged," said Flier, of Gravelle and the other business owners. "They're pretty devastated."
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