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Fire reduces Milwaukee area hobby shop to ruin

By Nick Bullock
Published: January 4, 2013
Dennis Jones, whose family owns three Happy Hobby stores in the Milwaukee area, got a phone call from a relative around 11 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. The relative had just watched a news story about a hobby shop that caught on fire in West Allis, Wis.

Dennis knew that the Happy Hobby on 80th Street and National Avenue, managed by his brother, Scott Jones, was the only hobby store in that area.

By the time Dennis Jones and his family arrived, the building had been ablaze for nearly two hours. “We were there from, like, 11:30 to 6 in the morning,” he said.

The West Allis Fire Department received the first call on the fire at 9:44 p.m. on Dec. 31. Firefighters placed the fire under control by about 3:30 a.m. on Jan. 1, but small fires continued to burn at the location until about noon, said Lt. Jay Scharfenberg. By then, not much remained of the store that had been selling hobby products to Wisconsinites for more than 20 years.

“There’s some stuff that’s still good in there,” Jones said, “but not a lot. … Walls that were covered with plastic things, radio-controlled cars, helicopters, all that stuff that was on the walls, there’s no sign of it anymore.”

Fire officials called the building, estimated at $160,000, a total loss. A low estimate of the building’s contents was $300,000, Scharfenberg said. Jones said there was probably closer to $500,000 worth of inventory lost.

The cause of the fire was still under investigation.

The fire was considered a box alarm, or second alarm, fire, meaning firefighters were unable to confine the blaze to its initial space and were forced to pull everyone out of the building because it was in danger of collapsing, Scharfenberg said. He called it an “unusual event” and said fire departments from more than half a dozen surrounding communities were called in for help.

Jones, whose father opened the first Happy Hobby and whose family has been in the business since 1974, said his family is unsure if it will reopen the store.