By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
To Kristen Snow, who kept her business open through long, dreary months after the Nov. 8 fire, it’s more than a place where she sells used clothes.
It’s a hope. It’s a new start.
“It’s like the phoenix,” said Snow, likening the shop she opened just two days before the fire to the mythical bird that rises from ashes.
The walk in front of Snow’s shop at 1810 Hewitt Ave. was still blocked with a “Sidewalk Closed” sign late last week. A few customers still wandered in, browsing racks and shelves in the long, narrow store. Fashionable boots, prom dresses, baby items, men’s and women’s jeans, shirts and jackets, Snow has clothes for every age and size.
That’s how she was able to help immediately after the fire, which killed one man and displaced about 40 residents of the 118-year-old apartment building.
The night of the fire, two day days after Snow’s grand opening, she had gone home to the Smokey Point area townhouse she shares with her three youngest children. A single mom, she has lived since late 2011 in a Housing Hope transitional housing complex.
Snow, 40, was ready for bed Nov. 8 when she got a call from a friend who works in a bar across the street from the Klothing Vault. The building on the corner was in flames. Snow rushed back to Everett and was relieved to see that “we were still standing.”
She couldn’t get into her store, so she and a friend went to Comcast Arena, where people who had fled the fire were sheltered. They talked with helpers from the Snohomish County Chapter of the American Red Cross.
With about $45, she said they went to a Walmart and bought socks and a pair of shoes for someone who was shoeless after the fire, then returned to the arena. “Oh, my gosh, you have never seen people so happy for one pair of socks,” Snow said.
Snow also handed out Klothing Vault cards for anyone affected by the fire to go to her shop for free clothing — two pairs of pants, two shirts, a coat and a pair of shoes for each person. “They were all used except maybe two,” she said.
After the fire, the Klothing Vault became a place for fire victims to pick up household items. Stephanie Onustack, who works in the shop with Snow, said that through friends they gathered towels, blankets, dishes and even two beds for fire survivors.
Snow knows well from experience what it’s like to be in need.
Her business has struggled since the fire, but Snow is working to dig out from years of hard times. In 2008, her marriage ended after a decade. They are still in the process of divorcing, said Snow, whose previous name was Kristen Keck.
Everett’s Klothing Vault is only the latest business with that name. Snow had to close her Klothing Vault in Arlington at the end of 2011, after falling behind in rent.
Earlier in 2011, the family lost their Arlington home to foreclosure. Snow said she wasn’t able to negotiate a loan modification. For a time, Snow and her girls lived in the back of the Arlington shop after losing the house. “It was like camping,” she said.
In good times and bad, Snow has been a worker. For 17 years she was a bartender at Jimmy Z’s in Everett, now Tony V’s Garage, just up the street from her shop. “I set goals. I saved $20,000 from bartending,” said Snow, who also worked as a bookkeeper.
She opened her first used-clothing shop with an income-tax refund. After losing the Arlington shop, she put her clothing inventory into storage and for awhile went back to bartending.
She has five girls, ages 20, 19, 14, 11 and 8. One of the older kids was a foster child she adopted. “Boy, are they my life,” said Snow, who drives from her shop to Arlington daily to get her kids from school. The girls often help in the shop.
Snow has tried to provide what she missed as a child. She said she spent part of her childhood with relatives after drugs and alcohol ruined her mother’s life. Her father, she said, was in a motorcycle club. Today, Snow brags about her daughters’ good grades.
With business off since the fire, Snow said her landlord Pete Sikov has been patient about rent that’s slow to come. Sikov also owns the McCrossen property, where demolition is underway.
“He has seen how hard we have worked,” said Snow, who built shelves that line the shop walls.
Despite the fire and all that came before it, Snow is thankful for a fresh start. As you leave her store, a sign above the door says “Thank you for your smile.”
She’s glad she stayed on Hewitt after the fire. “We didn’t make a penny through that whole time, but we were helping. I believe that’s exactly why we were here,” she said.
Snow was amazed the shop and its contents didn’t have smoke or major water damage. She can’t wait for that sidewalk to open.
“I know it will be successful,” Snow said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, firstname.lastname@example.org.