Massive flames roaring into the night sky, destroying Fayetteville’s iconic Sir’s Fabrics, remain as vivid in the memories of Ken and Carol Mackay today as they were at daybreak that Sunday morning a year ago.
“I’ll say the same thing now as I did then,” said Ken Friday afternoon, taking a break from loading his seventh or eighth dumpster with metal, cardboard and trash from the store’s warehouse across the street. “I will forever be grateful that no customers were hurt, no employees were hurt, and no firemen were hurt.”
The Mackays are thankful, too, for the large numbers of firemen and others who responded that night, Feb. 10, 2018, and worked to ensure the blaze didn’t spread to neighboring buildings. Fayetteville firemen used their 75-foot ladder truck to douse the flames from above, as well as numerous other hoses attacking the blaze from opposing sides. The department also reached out to Tullahoma, which sent its 122-foot platform bucket truck to the scene. Lincoln County volunteer firefighters provided water from their tankers to the Tullahoma crew so as to not put a strain on existing infrastructure.
Still, surrounding businesses and churches sustained varying amounts of damage. Utilities in the area also sustained a major blow, causing Fayetteville Public Utilities’ crews to work for the next several days to restore power and telecommunications.
“We just can’t say enough about all the firemen and other responders who worked so hard,” said Ken. “They did a tremendous job, and we’re grateful to each of them.”
On the table in front of him, the old Philadelphia Phillies’ lunchbox which once rested on a shelf in his office. Once a bright red and blue, now burned beyond recognition, the hometown souvenir is the least of the treasures the Mackays lost when the family business was destroyed.
“We kept so many family mementos at the store, from our parents and grandparents’ pictures to Daddy’s correspondence over the years and files of articles about Daddy, recalling his involvement in different causes,” said Carol. “I still mourn the loss of those ... I was kind of the keeper of the family archives.”
Sir’s started out as a dry goods store opened by Carol’s father, the late Joe Sir, in 1948. An astute businessman and leader on the regional front, Mr. Sir had realized through the years that the needs of his customers were changing and eventually expanded his business to include fabrics and notions, relocating it from the west side of the square where The Local Cafe is now situated to its North Elk Avenue location.
The business he forged would go on to change the very fabric of Fayetteville and Lincoln County, as well as the fabric of Middle Tennessee. Always involved in the community, Mr. Sir is perhaps most widely credited with being instrumental in the development of Tims Ford Dam. He dedicated years to the project.
Other documents detailing the family’s contributions to the region were also lost, including materials relating to Carol’s grandfathers, Myer Ginsburg, who owned M. Ginsburg Department Store on the Lewisburg square, and Sam Sir, who owned Sam Sir’s Department Store on the Manchester square.
“I think about so many of those memories every day,” Carol said, noting that while she has some of those artifacts in her home, so much of what was lost simply cannot be replaced.
“You can’t just walk away from 70 years of business,” said Ken. “When something like this happens, you’ve got to find the positive, and there’s been a lot of positive that’s happened. So many people from here in this community and from far away gave money for the benefit of our employees - that meant a lot. And you know, we had great customers, and the crew I had in that last year was probably the best crew I had in my 27 years here.”
Ken joined Mr. Sir at the store in 1991. A little more than a decade later, in March 2002, Mr. Sir passed away, but Ken would carry on the business, continuing to grow it into one of the largest stores of its kind in the Southeast, offering an expansive inventory of fabrics, ranging from upholstery to drapery and clothing, as well as sewing machines and a wide variety of related materials and items. Just a year before the fire, he had also opened Sir’s Marketplace, a vendor-based business, next door. It, too, was destroyed in the blaze.
As the news of the devastating fire broke last year, The Times’ posts on social media exploded, with over 5,500 shares and more than 600,000 people reacting in the first 24 hours. People across the country commented on the impact the store had on their lives and the impact it had on the community here. Sadness and disbelief were as evident for them as for Fayetteville.
But for no one has the loss of the business been more impactful than for the Mackays.
Today, the large lot where the store once stood is a field of grass, ready for a new story, a new venture. What had remained of the large structure has long since been demolished, and now, with a new drainage system in place, the site will be going on the market. The 15,000-square-foot two-story warehouse across the street is already for sale.
“We’re not going to open again,” said Ken, adding that he’s already begun looking for a new job. “People may think it would be hard going from being a business owner to an employee, but I don’t see it that way. I’m excited for what the future holds, and I’m looking forward to putting my experience to work for someone else.
“Twenty-seven years ago, Sir’s Fabrics changed my life,” he said. “Now, the fire has changed my life again. It’s been life changing for all of us, but we are ready for something new — I’m ready for something new.
“I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again. We have so much to be grateful for, and more than anything, I’m grateful that everyone was able to go home and no one was hurt.”