Corner Bar owner looks ahead to future
By BETH ALTENA
Jeff Wolfe, owner of the Corner Bar, found out about the fire in the early morining hours on Monday, August 14. His wife Sara was on her way to the gym from their downtown Rockford home and saw the commotion at the intersection of Main and Courtland Street. She asked what was going on and heard the news, the Corner Bar was on fire.
“She raced home and woke me up, we were there from about 5:20 or 5:30 a.m.” Like the firefighters who worked the scene throughout the day and on into the night, in the beginning the original fire was contained quickly and everyone thought the crisis was over.
Firefighters had been in the basement looking for hot spots and were satisfied. Minutes after they left the structure a gas fueled explosion blew out the windows and lifted the roof off the structure. Jeff said he can’t imagine anyone would have survived had they still been in the building.
“The explosion ensued and natural gas was just pouring in.” He said by 8 in the morning, Chief Dave Jones had to tell him it wasn’t looking good for the 100 year old building.
“Honestly, in that moment we feel like everybody else. It feels so personal, there have been many generations going there.” Wolfe said he and Sara feel ownership of the revered business is an honor and a responsibility.
Wolfe said the investigation into the fire is underway and would not speculate about any ideas since they would just be guesses. He said noone suspects anything malicious, though. “It’s just a horrible, tragic accident.”
He said DTE was on the scene quickly, but unable to locate a shutoff valve for the building. Several shutoffs were located, but none of them fed the line to the Corner. For over three hours the flames were fed by the natural gas and firefighters had no hope of putting it out, although the fought hard to save the building.
At this point it is impossible to know if the façade will be saved. It is still standing, and Wolfe said he is optimistic. He said people have been asking about bricks from the building and he’d like to save and reuse as much of the original structure as possible.
Wolfe refuted any question of operating temporarily out of another kitchen. “It just doesn’t feel right. It would be different if we were thinking of moving. I want to focus my efforts at rebuilding, focus on the next Corner Bar.”
He doesn’t plan to be out of the public eye as far as all the off site events the Corner Bar has traditionally hosted. The Hot Dog Mover will be at Art in the Park the same as always. Other events coming up will likewise not be affected by the fire. The food truck was just recently a feature at the Hillview Block Party (Please see page 8).
At some point Wolfe would like to write a letter for publication thanking the community for the outpouring of support. “It obviously been fantastic, but honestly, it doesn’t surprise me. We all know what a fantastic place we live in. People here are so caring and so selfless.”
When asked how he and Sara are holding up, Wolfe responded, “It’s not about us, we’re curators for awhile. It’s a great honor and responsibility. This is the people’s place, it’s kept us proud and it’s a huge honor.”