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S&S Sports rebuilds after fire: ‘It’s going to be all metal’

RONAN – S&S Sports is rebuilding after a fire destroyed the 10,000 square-foot shop, containing recreational vehicles, watercraft, tools, and other things.

On March 14, 2016 a thick plume of smoke rose up over the S&S building and moved east across U.S. Highway 93, a few miles south of Ronan. Fire crews from agencies across Lake County battled flames for hours to keep the fire from spreading to the business owner’s adjacent home, which was accomplished, but the business building was lost.

Owner Gina Johnson was determined to keep the business going even without a shop. She wanted to make sure that her seven employees still had jobs. “There were too many families to feed to let this go,” she said. 

What was left of the ruined building was cleaned up, and the recreational equipment that wasn’t damaged including boats, snowmobiles, and ATVs were displayed in an outside showroom.

Johnson brought in a small trailer and set up her office. A few steps away in the trailer, space was designated for a few other employees to do things like sales and paperwork. “It’s a tight space,” she said.

Johnson opened up the garage on her home so S&S mechanics could service and repair recreational vehicles customers brought in. 

She originally opened the business with her husband, Wes Johnson, in 1993 after he retired from the Montana Highway Patrol. Wes enjoyed working on machinery, especially snowmobiles, and the couple grew the business to include sales. Though Wes passed away in 2011, S&S Sports continues to be a family business. Jake Starkel, Gina’s son and Wes’s stepson, is now the general manager.

Johnson said the makeshift conditions with the shop and her office weren’t always easy to handle during the past year, especially when it got cold out and the wind rocked the trailer. And, she said, business was a bit slow at first, “People didn’t think we were open after the fire.”

Word eventually got around that the business was open so sales picked up later in the summer, and Johnson eventually worked out a settlement with the insurance company, although the exact cause of the fire was never determined. 

She decided to rebuild the business in two buildings, a few feet away from where the old building once stood. Construction began on Sept. 21 of this year.

“It’s going to be all metal,” she said of the construction material that tends to be fire proof. Thinking about fire prevention, she repeated the words “all metal” this time. 

The 7,000-square foot showroom will be completely open with a few office rooms on the back for parts and services, and Johnson will have a new office so she can move out of the trailer. 

A 3,200-square foot shop is being constructed in a separate building a few feet away from the showroom with a four-bay shop, so people can pull in something as big as a boat for mechanics to work on. 

“We are going to have a lot more space,” she said.

The new showroom and shop will have 200 square-feet of extra space compared to the old building. Johnson is excited about the open floor plan. 

“It will be easier to display in here,” she said as she looked around the almost completed showroom on Wednesday. The concrete flooring is finished and the big glass windows on the front of the building are set. The rockwork on the outside needs to be put up, and the office space has to be built. The roof was scheduled to be finished on Thursday.

“We are going to open the shop by the end of November,” she said. “And we will move into the showroom around the first of the year.”

Johnson is planning a grand opening for the new buildings during the summer of 2018, which happens to be the 25th anniversary of the S&S Sports.

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