Picking up the pieces: SLC business owners forced to rebuild after arson fire

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Business owners lose livelihoods in arson fire

A group of business owners and the management team of the Owl Building posed for a somber group picture in front of the rumble that remains after a arson fire destroyed the structure in the Sugarhouse area on Ashton Avenue a week before (June 19, 2021)

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SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Karma Fry remembers the moment she graduated from massage therapy school 18 years ago. She was only 23-years-old and dreamt of running her own business. The endeavor began when a unit opened up at the “Owl Building,” a nickname given to the business complex by its tenants and management team over the years because of its resemblance to a treehouse.

“I was so young, naïve, scared, and insecure. I knew nothing about running a business. But I was surrounded by all these amazing mentors who had been in the healing arts for decades. It completely changed my life in ways that I didn’t even recognize at the time,” says Fry.

Danesh Rahimi, owner of the Owl Building

Danesh Rahimi bought and renovated the approximately 60-year-old building back in 2004. He typically had about 20 business owners renting space at one time, mostly specializing around the healing arts, such as massage therapy, meditation, acupuncture, reiki, and psychotherapy. Rahimi is also a healer himself, specializing as a geriatric medicine specialist at St. Mark’s Hospital.

“I originally bought the building as an investment to fund my daughter’s education and my retirement. But over the years, I have spent more money than I have made from it. So I guess I’m not a very good businessman,” Rahimi laughed.

Karma Fry, massage therapist

Business tenants said in his 17 years of owning the 10,000 square feet building, Rahimi never raised rent on his tenants despite increasing property values in Salt Lake County’s booming real estate market. They said he also went to great lengths to save costs, including installing solar panels on the building to conserve energy.

“Dinesh is such a special person. We were so lucky he bought the building. He had a understanding and vision of what gifts the practitioners in this building were bringing to the community,” says Fry. “He believed in the power of what we were doing and he was never in it to make money.”

On the morning of June 13, the fate of the Owl Building came to a tragic end when a three-alarm structure fire destroyed the property. Business tenants said the fire also destroyed a single-family home and damaged an apartment complex next door, displacing three families. One firefighter was sent to the hospital for smoke inhalation. But luckily, no one suffered life-threatening injuries.

Kimberly Blosser, owner of Emissary of Light Massage

Kimberly Blosser, owner of Emissary of Light Massage recalled the phone call from Fry that morning, informing her about what happened.

“Karma (Fry) told me, ‘Kim, our building’s gone.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ She was crying and said, ‘Our building burnt down,'” said Blosser. “I went into shock, threw my clothes on, and immediately drove over here. We were crying, bawling, and hyperventilating.”

She explains that the biggest loss to her and her colleagues were not the physical equipment items that perished in the fire. It was the sense of community, respect, and love they had for one another. It was also the sentimental possessions and keepsakes that are irreplaceable. For Blosser, she lost her mom’s kimono that was hanging in her office, who passed away a few years ago.

“This is my livelihood. When the world got crazy in my life during the last 15 years, this was the place where I could get grounded and feel safe. It was my sanctuary. It was my oasis. It was a place where I could heal and provide healing to others,” said Blosser.

“It was very sad to see it go, especially because no one was prepared for the loss. We are just experiencing shock right now. We lost something without being prepared for it,” says Rahimi. “To rebuild a structure like this now in this area would cost between $3 to $4 million. But the most important thing you have is your health. Without it, you have nothing. To me, this is just a building. Nothing is forever. I’m just glad no one was hurt.”

A few days later, Salt Lake City Police arrested Alex Kentish Tuita, 37 on two counts of aggravated arson. They said he allegedly set fire to the building by placing gasoline from a glass container on a wall of the building, then igniting the gasoline. Documents said he was also violating a stalking injunction that an employee of the one of the businesses filed against him.

Sara Rose, manager of the Owl Building

Sara Rose, who is the manager of the Owl Building shared what her immediate thoughts and feelings were when she found out who the alleged arsonist was.

“I literally started shaking. I lost it. I was just kind of neurotic and floored that the (alleged) arsonist was a client of ours in our sacred, safe place and would do something like this,” said Rose emotionally. “This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with in my life. We’re never going to find something like what we had. I hope he (Tuita) gets the help that he needs.”

“Whatever reason he (Tuita) did it, it didn’t warrant this. It destroyed our lives. I was angry. But I try not to get too angry because I feel like this is a very lost soul. I feel like he wants us to get angry so he could absorb our energy,” says Blosser.

Alexa Lennon Ardenne, a massage therapist

On Saturday, a group of the business owners and members of the management team gathered at the site to sift through what was left of the rubble.

“I felt a flood of memories come back. I think when someone or something dies, all the good floats to the surface. Even all the quirks and strange things about this place that we lamented or we were always trying to fix became laced in gold. You laugh about them and they become the beautiful things,” says Alexa Lennon Ardenne, a massage therapist.

Owl Building before it was destroyed in last week’s fire

Together, this group of professional healers are working on healing themselves and the trauma they have experienced as a result of this tragedy. A number of them have relocated to temporary locations. Others who are able to work remotely have fallen back on virtual appointments in the meantime. Some business owners have GoFundMe pages created by community members and others say the best way to help is to support their business.

“I feel the most bad for the business owners, because some of them have been here even longer than I have been here. However, they are strong and resilient group of people,” says Rahimi.

“I am an optimist. We are balancing moving forward with mourning the loss of this place. There is so much symbolism and beauty in where we’re all dispersing to and where we might go. You can’t take down all of this positive energy,” says Ardenne. “We’re all about healing, helping, and fixing what’s broken in other people’s bodies, minds, and lives. Now it’s time to work on doing it ourselves.”

Below are links to some of GoFundMe fundraisers created for the victims who lost their business in the fire:

Rosie_Nguyen
Rosie Nguyen is an award-winning journalist who joined the ABC4 News team as a reporter in January 2018. In September 2020, she embarked on a new journey as the anchor for the CW30 News at 7 p.m. Although she’s not out in the field anymore, she is continuing her passion for social justice and community issues through the nightly “In Focus” discussions.

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