The Free Press, Mankato, MN

December 29, 2011

Fire to close gas station for weeks

By Mark Fischenich
Free Press Staff Writer

NORTH MANKATO — The SuperAmerica convenience store along Highway 169 in North Mankato has had a tough run. Three robberies in 2010 and a fire Tuesday that will shutter the store until mid-January.

But the latest setback for owner Husein Sarameh could end up being a treat for area homeless and a nearly three-week paid vacation for the store's 12 employees. Good insurance on the store - supplemented by the insurance coverage of the plumbing contractor that accidentally set a wall afire - will cover wages for the employees and lost income for Sarameh.

"So they will get paid while they stay at home," he said.

Sarameh will be plenty busy overseeing the construction of a new roof and new bathrooms and the replacement of any coolers and other fixtures as needed. But first, he's trying to find a home for the remaining merchandise.

"We gave away the milk to charities," he said.

He was still awaiting a go-ahead from the health department to give away the non-perishable food, probably to the Salvation Army. If the health department authorizes it, homeless people in the Mankato area may be treated to candy, mints, gum, snacks, cookies, canned goods and the wide variety of other items in the store.

The merchandise might have a smoky aroma on the outside packaging, but most of the water used by the North Mankato Fire Department was kept to the southwest corner of the store on Webster Avenue.

The fire was reported at 5:23 p.m. Tuesday by a plumber repairing a leaky pipe in the men's room, said Assistant Chief Rich Inman. The flame from a soldering torch ignited a plastic pipe.

"They typically just melt, but this one burned and went up the wall," Inman said.

Despite the holiday week, 30 of the 34 members of the volunteer fire department were quickly on the scene and worked for two hours to douse the flames, ventilate the smoke and dismantle parts of the wall and roof where the fire had spread.

"Fire" and "gas station" are two terms that firefighters don't like to see combined, but Inman said the underground storage of fuel and the fuel shut-off valves minimize the danger of a more explosive situation. The quick response eliminated those concerns in any case.

There were no injuries from the fire.

By Wednesday, Sarameh was looking at the bright side of the situation as he let insurance adjusters into the building.

"At least we'll have two new bathrooms," he said.

A tanker truck was draining the store's tanks, taking the fuel to Sarameh's SuperAmerica on Riverfront Drive. By today, he was hoping he'd get approval to have the Salvation Army haul away the food and sweets.

His only worry was his customers, who would also be going elsewhere. He's shooting to re-open on Jan. 15.

"It took us time to build the customer base," he said. "... We'd like to see our customers back in two weeks."