14Business owner speaks after loss in Lapeer fireLAPEER, MI -- Craig Watson, a Lapeer local business owner and the board of education’s vice president
LAPEER, MI — Craig Watson, a Lapeer local business owner and the board of education’s vice president, already had an extremely busy weekend planned.
Watson was preparing to head to a fundraiser golf outing Saturday, June 5 before Lapeer Community Schools celebrated its Class of 2021 on Sunday.
However, everything changed when he started getting phone calls around 6 a.m. Saturday morning.
Friends of Watson were calling to alert him of smoke barreling from a building close to his Lapeer County Vision Centers practice downtown.
The fire, which ended up damaging multiple buildings and fully taking Watson’s location, started early Saturday morning and smoldered late into the afternoon hours until more than 100 firefighters used 3 million gallons of water for containment.
The downtown fire was the second time in a decade where local firefighters found themselves on West. Nepessing Street. Nearly 9 years ago, another fire broke out directly across the street on Nov. 12, 2013.
That fire destroyed an apartment building and displaced 15-20 people. It nearly spread to the historic Pix Theater before firefighters got control of the flames. Many have compared that fire to the one Lapeer fought last weekend.
“This shows our resiliency,” Watson said. “Downtown is not the brick and mortar — it’s the community that makes downtown.”
An excavator was used to remove the north and south walls of the buildings struck by the fire, Fire Chief Terry Kluge said in a news release. The removal included Lapeer County Vision Centers.
“Unfortunately, the fire spread to two adjacent buildings before being contained,” Kluge said. “Three additional buildings suffered minor to significant water and smoke damage. As the incident progressed, crews were unable to continue attempts to enter the involved buildings due to roof/floor collapse and other unsafe conditions.”
Fortunately, nobody was injured, Lapeer Mayor Deborah Marquardt said.
Watson’s Lapeer County Vision Centers practice does have two other locations, one in Imlay City and another Opticare location in Lapeer, but some things that were lost in this fire cannot be replaced by insurance.
There is a long history of an optometrist providing service in downtown Lapeer.
Watson and his partner, Jeffery Johnston, purchased the location from a retiring optometrist who did the same years ago.
They shared their notes with each other as the business changed hands, which allowed Watson to review a roughly 70-year history of patients.
“It’s been a landmark since 1987,” Watson said. “Even now, Jeff and I are seeing the kids of the kids that we saw early in our careers. That paperwork history is gone, but the history of a practice being downtown won’t be.”
Watson received praise from the community on social media after Sunday’s Lapeer schools graduation ceremony for the Class of 2021.
The district posted honoring Watson’s dedication to the students, seeing that nobody would have faulted him for not showing up due to the circumstances.
Watson, who serves on the board of education, felt that it just came down to fulfilling his commitment to the community and, more importantly, the students, he said.
“I made a commitment to the school and the kids,” Watson said. “There is no bigger event than graduation.”
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