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Theater loses props in Murray fire

By Leanne Fuller lfuller@paducahsun.com

Eleven businesses were directly affected by the fire that struck the court square in downtown Murray a week ago, and Murray Main Street director Deana Wright said Tuesday that all downtown businesses need community support to recover.

"When the fire took place people were instructed to stay away from downtown, and that was just for the safety of the general public," Wright said. "And now we're having to combat that."

Wright said there is still no word on what caused the fire, and although it isn't official yet - the fire report and structural engineer's report haven't come in - it's likely the three buildings that sustained the most fire damage will have to be demolished. She said a great deal of each of those buildings is already gone, including nearly all of the second stories of each.

Four of the 11 affected businesses have returned to their locations: Frame Village, New Life Christian Book Store, 5th and Main Coffees, and Rudy's Restaurant, the latter of which Wright said is "taking this time to do a little remodel."

While many downtown businesses are open to customers, Wright said others among those displaced by the fire are dealing with the added rigors of relocation - some temporarily, others permanently - on top of the daily challenges of running their businesses.

"There are four businesses whose buildings are totaled. They will not be going back in that location unless it's rebuilt," Wright said.

Playhouse in the Park also is among those facing major challenges. The local community theater's storage facility - located above the office of the Thurman Campbell Group, an accounting firm, on Maple Street - burned, as did its contents.

"What was up there was all the props, all the furniture," Executive Director Lisa Cope said. "The formal costumes, like the tuxs and wedding gowns and formal gowns, the hats - many of which were vintage."

Cope said new seats were recently put in the theater in the Murray-Calloway County Park. The extra seats stored at the Maple Street location were lost. But the biggest loss, she said, were the props, "because, you can imagine, that was 40 years of collecting things." She said there was no formal inventory of the items in the facility when it burned, but the best estimate of the cost is $50,000 to $75,000.

Cope said when she found out about the fire, "It was overwhelming to say the least," because what was lost was more than just a storage room.

"It was a really magical place," Cope recalled. "It was a big playground essentially. People that went there couldn't resist playing with things that were there: putting hats on their heads, playing with the boas."

Cope said realizing the items amassed over the theater's history were gone was difficult at first, but folks at Playhouse in the Park know those items can be replaced.

"We're grateful that no one was hurt," Cope said. "We can start over. It was just a huge setback."

But people have stepped forward to help. Cope said theaters in the surrounding area - including in Murray, Owensboro and Mayfield - have offered to let Playhouse in the Park borrow props in the short term, and individuals have come forward offering to help as well.

Cope said Playhouse in the Park has also placed a list of props it needs for productions on its website - playhouseinthepark.net - and people interested in donating or lending items on the list can call the theater. Because it doesn't have any storage space, the theater can only accept items on the list.

Cope said anyone interested in making a monetary donation to the theater can also give through redbasket.org, a nonprofit website for charitable giving. The site - created by Woodmen of the World - doesn't charge a fee, so 100 percent of donations given the Playhouse in the Park through the site will go to the theater.

Wright said, as with Playhouse in the Park, the fire has been devastating for the businesses affected.

"It's really sad, and I hate it that their livelihoods and these historical buildings are gone. And it happened in less than 12 hours," Wright said.

But Wright is focused on what can be done now to help.

"I think one of the important things that the community can do is support the businesses, not only the ones that have been affected by the fire, but also the others downtown that are still open for business," Wright said. "We do have a lot of retail establishments, restaurants, and also service-based businesses downtown that need the support of the community."

To ask questions about donations and other information about Playhouse in the Park, call 270-759-1752.

Contact Leanne Fuller, a Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8653.

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