Fifty-foot flames engulfed a Gainesville favorite Monday night – destroying the iconic “junk museum” known as Lightnin’ Salvage.
“My heart was racing and I just kept remembering trying to calm myself down,” Satchel Raye, owner of Satchel’s Pizza and Lightnin’ Salvage, said. “The whole thing was such a blur.”
A crowd of loyal customers and employees stood outside a chain link fence as they watched the metal-roofed space behind Satchel’s Pizza burn to the ground. Dozens of firefighters cut through the tin roof of the building and searched the area for hotspots.
Just a night before, repurposed pieces and art collections had decorated the walls of the junk museum, which served as a place where patrons could wander as they waited for a table at the restaurant next door.
Although the fire was contained before it reached the restaurant, the open-air dining area, shop and salvage area was no longer salvageable. According to JoAnne Rice, the Gainesville Fire Rescue deputy fire chief, the incident is still under investigation.
Bjorn Parramoure rollerbladed to the scene to watch as the men finished putting out the fire at one of his favorite restaurants.
"This is a Gainesville treasure that needs our help to thrive again, and it’s up to us as a community to help rebuild it,” Parramoure said.
Four years earlier, the restaurant was forced to close for several months after a fire took out the kitchen and dining area. A burned pizza as well as an old newspaper clipping from the first fire was preserved in one of the restaurant’s clear-top tables.
After working for Satchel’s Pizza and Lightnin’ Salvage for over a decade, Judy Keathley described the second fire as yet another “strange dream.”
She was in charge of buying items for the gift shop so she rushed over as soon as she heard about the fire and watched the building fall to the ground.
However, Keathley views the loss as another opportunity to grow and rebuild. “It’s still shocking and sad, but the next incarnation of Lightnin’ Salvage will be even better than this one,” she said.
A team of volunteers and staff members spent the next couple of days cleaning burnt rubble and rummaging through the structure that once represented a quarter of their business.
Four days after the fire, the pizzeria reopened with new sooty art pieces on display. As someone who firmly believes in repurposing things, Raye decided to create a bit of an atmosphere, decorating the area with the burnt remains of Lightnin’ Salvage.
Smokey t-shirts and charred relics lined the shelves within the remains of the shop. Long-time customers could sift for one-of-a-kind souvenirs. Crissy Hensley looked through burnt postcards as she thought about all the times she spent there the past six years.
“I have a couple of friends that work here so I wanted to stop by and support the business,” Hensley said. Although patrons can no longer listen to live performances or look through art collections during their wait, patrons can pick out one free souvenir to commemorate and remember Gainesville’s favorite “junk museum.”
Raye said rebuilding will take anywhere from six months to a year, potentially costing more than $250,000. Regardless, he looks forward to starting over and doing something different.
“It’s just a performance piece,” Raye said. “The whole thing is just ongoing, changing and ever evolving and that’s just how life is really.”