Early Sunday morning, John Roman was supposed to open up the Smoke Zone Smoke Shop at 14 W. Union St., like he had done dozens of times before.
Or at least he thought he was, until he whipped out his phone, checked Twitter and saw the news: West Union Street was ablaze.
After calling the shop’s regional manager, Jac Cooper, at about 10:15 a.m., Roman hurried Uptown to give his boss “more feedback.”
“He had no idea,” Roman said.
The fire that struck five buildings on the street in the early hours on Sunday left Cooper without his 3-year-old shop.
Cooper can still recite the date he opened up Smoke Zone in Athens: Jan. 21, 2011. The town had always held a special place in Cooper’s heart, he said, so the move made complete sense.
“Athens is the place where I went to undergrad, where I first started with Smoke Zone and where dreams of a little guy’s success were made a reality through a nurturing community,” Cooper said.
Until receiving Roman’s call late Sunday morning, though, Cooper had been left “in the dark.”
“It was at that instant that my phone blew up with texts and calls from other people (customers, employees, friends in Athens), most expecting for me to have the answers,” Cooper said. “But I was as in the dark as anyone else.”
Cooper, a Columbus resident, said he immediately got in his car and raced to Athens to scope out the damage.
Though the building sustained “extensive fire damage,” according to an appraisal done by the Athens County Auditor Jill Thompson’s Office, Cooper still maintains hope to prop his business back up.
“We love Athens and we are anxious to reopen and provide jobs for our team members as soon as possible,” Cooper said.
Affected employees won’t be financially affected because of donations by Athens residents, Cooper said.
Though the Smoke Zone is gone for now, loyal patron Spenser Dopp won’t forget the memories he made there in less than a year’s time.
“It was a very welcoming place,” said Dopp, a freshman studying journalism. “The staff were always friendly, and they sold beautiful pieces of art.”
The fire was “a reminder to us all that bad things sometimes happen to good people,” he said.
“It’s a damn shame,” Dopp added.
Cooper still maintained that Athens hasn’t seen the last of the Smoke Zone.
“Smoke Zone on Union Street will always mean the world to me because of all the love that the people of Athens and the students of Ohio University showed us over our unfortunately short years there,” Cooper said.