Firefighters pour water on a three-alarm fire at Everett Office Furniture on Broadway on Sept. 25, 2017, in Everett. The fire caused damage estimated at $1.5 million. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)

Firefighters pour water on a three-alarm fire at Everett Office Furniture on Broadway on Sept. 25, 2017, in Everett. The fire caused damage estimated at $1.5 million. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)

Safe saves Everett Office Furniture’s future after fire

The business was able to reopen because vital paperwork was preserved.

EVERETT — The safe looks like a shipwrecked vessel. Its concrete casing has been scorched brown. Charred boards cover its top.

A Sept. 25 fire destroyed Everett Office Furniture’s longtime headquarters in downtown Everett. The business lost every piece of inventory except one: the fire safe.

Inside its popped-open drawers, undamaged, lay the paperwork — drawings, invoices, receipts, records — that ensured the small company could survive.

“We had several large projects in process,” Everett Office Furniture owner Brian Hollingshead said. “If we didn’t have as many projects going, we’d have gone out of business.”

The rescued records also enabled Hollingshead to track purchases and find receipts for insurance claims, a process ongoing even as the business staged its grand reopening Jan. 25.

The new building, a one-time PCC market, at 9121 Evergreen Way, has more parking than the old location, as well as a truck loading dock. It also features an open showroom floor, allowing for debut displays of home-office and ergonomic furniture.

Everett Office Furniture shares the facility with Mattress City. Its owner, Stewart Patey, is a longtime Everett Office Furniture customer.

“This will be a much better space for us in the long term once we figure out how to utilize all of it,” Hollingshead said. “Right now it’s sort of a monumental effort to get organized.”

After the fire, Hollingshead, 63, considered taking the insurance settlement and calling it a career. Most small businesses never reopen after burning down. Those that do rarely last long.

But, he said, “It’s too good a business model.”

Everett Office Furniture sells good quality, mid-priced office furniture. It represents 100 different manufacturers and a handful of area wholesalers. About 80 percent of its revenue, however, comes from contracts to design offices for a variety of government and private businesses.

With five employees and one truck, Everett Office Furniture serves customers between North Seattle and Bellingham. One of the biggest benefits of its new home, said Hollingshead, is its central location near the junction of Evergreen Way and Highway 526.

“We have such a niche here in Snohomish County,” said Nadlae Ainley, an Everett Office Furniture interior designer. “If we weren’t here, there would be a big hole in the community.”

The business community pitched in to help the company get back on its feet the day after the blaze. Architecture firm Botesch, Nash and Hall offered to loan Everett Office Furniture four work stations. Fleet Service loaned a truck and Tiz Doors loaned warehouse space. Collectively, Hollingshead’s business missed only a few days of work.

“Everybody’s been great,” Hollingshead said. “People I only vaguely know would come up and give me a hug and say, ‘How are you doing? Hang in there.’ ”

Hollingshead and Patey leased the new building jointly. It was too big for either of them to afford alone.

Hollingshead said without the fire, Everett Office Furniture likely would not have moved or expanded.

“It’s a chance for a new beginning,” Ainley said. “We’re still trying to figure out how to use all this space. And we’re professionals.”

Meanwhile, the only remnant from the historic wooden building at 2931 Broadway, where Hollingshead founded the business 16 years ago, lies in a back hallway of the new home. It survived not only potential incineration, but a plunge from the collapsing second story onto back alley pavement.

Soon, it will rest on the new display floor, next to a display safe below a framed Herald story about the fire.

Hollingshead is not sure how much money Everett Office Furniture lost in the catastrophe, in terms of showroom furniture and potential contracts. He said he won’t know the full effects for a couple of years.

But now the bruised and battered safe, sole survivor of a fire so hot it melted the company truck, will greet him daily, a reminder of how much he already has.

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