By JOY BROWN
The front door plaque proclaiming its establishment in 1923 remained, and shop pets Peanut the rabbit and Lily the cat survived, but otherwise an early morning fire destroyed Sink’s Flower Shop and Greenhouse on Monday.
“Everything is gone. Everything,” said Paula Clapper, who co-owns and operates the southside Findlay business with her husband, Chuck at 404 Second St.
Two fire battalions battled the blaze, which also melted siding on nearby houses. Ash floated into yards for several blocks, providing a surreal morning image as people ventured outside.
Arson is suspected, Paula Clapper said. She was awakened at home at 4:30 a.m. by a police officer pounding on her door.
A note was left, Clapper said. She did not provide details.
On Monday afternoon, Fire Inspector Matt Pickett and a Findlay police detective were picking through the charred debris to try to determine a cause and the spot where the fire started.
Fire Chief Tom Lonyo said the store and a two-story garage, which housed the office of the business, are a total loss.
The greenhouse, with its many broken glass panels, now houses scorched plants.
An acrid smell, so different from the roses, carnations and other fragrant flowers that Sink’s arranged, remained throughout the Findlay neighborhood Monday afternoon. At 1 p.m., firefighters doused a spot on the shop’s roof that had begun to smoke again.
The shop itself, once a quaint, white, single-story building, was black inside.
Chuck Clapper was sitting at a gate at San Francisco International Airport on Monday morning, waiting on a delayed flight home. He was one day short of completing a vacation with a friend. He said he woke up to about 37 phone messages. His son broke the news to him.
“I’m still in shock right now,” Chuck said. He worried about Don Sink, the family patriarch who owned the shop in the 1950s.
Sink’s “was really his life. But I heard he’s already been down there, and Paula said he was pretty stoic about it,” Chuck said.
The shop has also been Chuck’s life. He began working on holidays and delivering flowers when he was a junior high school student. He returned to the business and began buying into it after serving a tour in Vietnam and completing a college degree in 1974. Thirty-two years ago, he bought the place from relatives Dave and Don Sink.
“Tragic is a good way to describe it for them,” said Mayor Lydia Mihalik.
Mihalik, hearing scanner traffic, showed up at the shop shortly after the fire was reported, as did Service-Safety Director Paul Schmelzer. The Clappers have been Mihalik supporters, and Chuck worked on her election campaign and mayoral transition team. He also serves on the Findlay Civil Service Commission.
Many others in the community know the Clappers, too. News of the fire spread quickly, with several using social media to express condolences.
“Yesterday I cut my 36 anniversary roses off the stem to dry and join the other buds I saved from Sinks over the years! So sorry Chuck and Paula!” posted Sharon Rooney on Facebook.
“So sorry to hear this. They have been family friends for years and did the most beautiful flower arrangements for my wedding! Prayers to you all!!” posted Emily Morrison.
As of Friday afternoon, Chuck Clapper said he didn’t know what would become of Sink’s, but his inclination is to try to salvage it somehow. His ancestors, after all, started the business literally from the ground up. Great Aunt Lois and Great Uncle Francis Sink in the 1920s began growing flowers in a field there.
“It’s a good old Findlay institution,” he said. “I feel like I’d be a bad steward if I didn’t try to continue it. What that would look like, I don’t know.”
The Clappers said the Sink’s business, including the orders it had committed to and the remainder of the business, is being relocated to Alpine Florist, which they also own and operate at 1700 N. Main St.
Many store records are backed up at Florists’ Transworld Delivery headquarters in Chicago, Chuck said, but other paperwork, such as paychecks that were due to be distributed Monday, were lost.
By Monday afternoon, the plaque near the front door had been pried off and preserved, perhaps for use at a future Sink’s shop.