George Falter, owner of Able Industries Inc., says the high cost of business insurance kept him from insuring his 11-year-old upholstery firm.
Yesterday, a four-alarm fire destroyed the warehouse that houses the firm, causing an estimated $200,000 in damages, fire officials said.
"I know a good businessman should have insurance, but the rates are so high," Falter, 56, said, standing in an alley behind his upholstery supply warehouse.
"If I got insurance, I wouldn't have been able to stay in business," Falter said. "It's a Catch-22."
Shortly before 11 a.m. yesterday what Falter thought could happen, happened -- the family-owned business caught fire.
Fire officials said the fire began on the vacant third floor on the southeast side of the building at 1207 S. Highland Ave. in Canton. The cause of the fire was under investigation.
Thirty-six units and 115 firefighters battled the blaze, which sent clouds of black smoke toward the downtown area. The fire was declared under control at 12:46 p.m.
No one was injured.
"We had to fight the fire in the yards of people north and south of the building," said Capt. Patrick Flynn, a fire department spokesman. "They couldn't get any equipment in the alley, and the building was in dangerous condition."
By dangerous condition, Flynn meant that the building contained flammable materials used in the upholstery business, such as foam rubber.
The fire caused $150,000 in damage to the building's structure ++ and $50,000 to its contents, Flynn said.
Parts of the north and south walls collapsed after fire burned through the wooden roof and beams fell in, fire officials said.
"We were all here," said Jim Falter, 28, Able general manager and George Falter's son. "The guys up front came back and told me my building was on fire. I ran and shut off all the electricity."
Workers were on the first and second floors. Some were preparing orders to be shipped.
Jim Falter said a nearby resident phoned the fire department.
About 3:30 p.m., Jim Falter and other workers were removing debris.
The Falters said they would try to salvage a saw and a grinder and other machines, but may be only able to save 20 percent of their materials.
"We couldn't have a fire sale," George Falter said of the damaged materials.
George Falter said he established the firm in January 1980 after he lost his job at a similar business that had been flooded.
Another son is trying to find a place where the family could move Able at "a reasonable price," George Falter said.
George Falter said he'd like the city to provide him with "a seed loan" so that he can start all over again, but because the city is financially strapped, "it's foolish for me to think" so.
"I can use any help I can get," George Falter said. He asked people who can help him to call 254-9311.
He said the state insurance commissioner needs to "create an even playing field" so that small businesses can afford insurance coverage.
"A large company can absorb the rates, but a little family company is behind the 8-ball when it comes to insurance," George Falter said.
He said one insurer wanted to charge him $11,000 a year for insurance on one delivery truck.
When he went into business, George Falter said he thought about the risks of not being insured. "I'm no dummy," he said, adding he just couldn't afford coverage.
"I wish I had insurance. I wish I could have afforded it."