SNOWFLAKES ARE LEFT DANGLING in the front window of American Speedy Printing on S. Washington Street in downtown Owosso following the Dec. 21 fire. Everything inside the longtime business is considered a loss. A couple living in an upstairs apartment also lost everything.

   American Speedy Printing has been in Owosso – in the same location – for four decades. It is located just north of Lula’s where the fire is speculatively believed to have started in the rear of the building. The investigation remains ongoing.

(Independent Photo/Karen Mead-Elford)


  The Tuesday, Dec. 21 fire that speculatively started in the rear part of Lula’s Louisiana Cookhouse – though that determination remains up to investigators – has largely affected a large portion of the block of businesses on S. Washington Street, including American Speedy Printing, Lula’s, Lily Pearls Lounge and Foster Coffee Company. Four businesses, three sets of owners and numerous employees were all confronted with various states of damage and loss connected to the fire.

   American Speedy Printing, tucked just north of Lula’s and owned by Gregg Bennett, has lost almost all business contents including everything from paper to presses to two color digital printing machines. The loss is extreme: most of it related to water, smoke and heat damage. Bennett does not yet know if the structural integrity of the building has been compromised, though most items inside were destroyed.

   Bennett offered via a phone call Monday, Dec. 27, he had one employee and her husband living in one of the apartments directly above his business. Krystal and Charlie Birchmeier had recently renovated the apartment and moved in last March. Krystal is a full-time graphic designer for Bennett, having worked for him for seven years. There are two apartments above Speedy Printing, but only one unit was occupied by the Birchmeiers at the time of the fire.

   According to Bennett, Krystal and her husband smelled smoke, saw some smoke coming up through the apartment floor and thinking it was coming from the back kitchen area of the restaurant next door, they went to the rear alley. Michigan State Troopers met them in the alley and called in the fire at roughly 12:07 a.m. The couple was told to leave immediately.

   The young couple lost everything inside of their apartment during the fire, though a account has since been established by Krystal’s brother to assist them. As of Monday morning, 62 donors had contributed, with donations still being accepted to help the couple out. Luckily, nobody was physically injured in the fire.

   Bennett has been invested in the Owosso community for a very long time. The Owosso American Speedy Print business opened in 1981 in the same location and Bennett became involved in 1982 – so for four decades the business has been an Owosso staple – always in the same location.

   As of Monday, Dec. 27, it remains unclear if Speedy Printing will reopen in the same building since the fate of the structure is unknown, though Bennett is planning on re-launching the business. It’s going to take time and the process of dealing with insurance companies, adjusters and investigators is lengthy.

   “Last week was just a different emotion every day,” Bennett shared. “Shock, anger, sadness, all of it. This week, I’m hoping to be more focused and develop a time line of what needs to be done.”

   “The smell here is still unbearable, though,” he explained about the smoke. Servpro professionals have been working on cleanup, but he is uncertain all of the smell can be removed.

   John and Morgan Beilfuss own Lula’s and Lily Pearls just south of Speedy Printing – both highly popular destination stops for downtown Owosso. John shared that as of Monday morning, Dec. 27, the cause of the fire remains unknown and he doesn’t want to speculate. The investigation continues and usually that takes a few weeks.

   “All we know at this time, is that it looked like it started at the back of the restaurant where we do dishes,” Beilfuss said.

   Lula’s was totally destroyed in the fire and numerous photos of the burned-out interior have been shared across social media despite the public not permitted to trespass. However, Lily Pearls Lounge, technically located in a separate, adjoining building sharing two openings, saw mostly smoke and water damage.

   Beilfuss explained he has been working with his insurance company and the fire inspector. Essentially, all of the items in Lily Pearls will have to be disposed, including liquor and food items. He is confident the paintings survived and can be saved once they are professionally cleaned.

   “At this time, I just don’t know,” Beilfuss stated, referencing many different questions connected to the fire including when they might reopen. “I’ve been telling everyone I don’t know. When I finally do know what all of my options are, I will go from there and pursue my options.” Beilfuss explained that once the information starts coming in from the insurance company and investigators, he should be better equipped to make decisions going forward.

   Another account has been set up under “Help save the Holiday’s for Lula’s staff,” to assist employees following the fire. As of Monday, the effort was roughly $800 short of the goal.

   Foster Coffee Company is co-owned by John Moore and Nicholas Pidek. Immediately following the fire, Fosters posted a notice via social media that the business was closed until further notice – which didn’t prove overly long. The Fosters location on S. Washington Street, south of Lily Pearls, is mostly facing water and smoke damage.

   Brianna Carroll, owner of the Fitness Coliseum on S. Water Street, was quick to open up space in her business for the Fosters owners to utilize as a pop-up business. Moore and Pidek have developed a friendship with Carroll and also had the means to transfer their mobile coffee bars into Fitness Coliseum just before Christmas, allowing them to serve their product to the public.

   “Clean up is still underway,” Pidek shared in a video from the S. Washington Street location on Christmas Eve. “They’re cleaning everything, like gutting the basement. We had some water damage. Restoration is on the path forward. We still don’t really quite know like when we’re going to be open here, but every day we’re making advances. We just wanted to highlight how important community is. We have been so overwhelmed and are so grateful for everybody that’s reached out.”

   “When terrible situations happen,” Pidek added. “You really get to see other people shine.”

   The Owosso Fire Department responded within minutes to the downtown Owosso fire on Tuesday, Dec. 21. The rear of Lula’s was already engulfed in flames at the time the fire department arrived.

   The Owosso Fire Department was assisted by Owosso Charter Township Fire Department and Corunna-Caledonia Fire Department. The three departments worked for several hours to extinguish the fire.

   The fire remains under investigation as the city works with the Michigan State Police Fire Investigation Unit, an MSP K9 unit and OFD investigators. The effort could take weeks, if not months.

Long Haul Ahead for Owosso Business Owners Following Recent Downtown Fire was last modified: January 4th, 2022 by Karen Elford