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Boxing gym, formal wear business displaced by fire

Two Duluth businesses were displaced by an intense fire at 25 W. First St. on Wednesday night

Arthur's Formal Wear and Horton's Gym were left scrambling to resume operations Thursday, but owners of both businesses said they expect to bounce back from the blaze.

Firefighters responded to a report of smoke in downtown Duluth at 11:49 p.m. With help from police, they searched several blocks before identifying the source.

Firefighters entered the two-story building and found the fire in the back of the formal wear business. The heat was intense and smoke was dense, but the fire had largely extinguished itself due to a lack of oxygen. The main body of the fire was under control within 20 minutes, though fire crews were on the scene for more than three hours.

Duluth Deputy Fire Marshal Ken Goossen said the fire started in a store room on the ground floor and "destroyed virtually everything in there." He said he believes it probably burned for an hour or more before firefighters were called to the scene.

Twenty-five firefighters on nine rigs responded to the blaze. Several Duluth police officers provided assistance.

The cause of the fire is unknown and remains under investigation.

Goossen said the building suffered no significant structural damage, but a report from the fire department estimated that the $500,000 building sustained about $100,000 in damage.

The inventory of Arthur's Formal Wear is considered to be beyond salvage. The Duluth Fire Department estimated the business sustained a property loss of about $250,000.

"All our inventory is gone, and what was left is so smoke-infused and wet that it's not usable," said Paula Saxin, who owns Arthur's with her husband, Bob.

Chuck Horton, owner of Horton's Gym, a boxing establishment, said his equipment was completely ruined, too.

"Everything is so smoke-damaged that we won't be able to use it at all," he said.

Nevertheless, Saxin said she was relieved that the fire did not destroy customer files and the store's order records. She spent much of Thursday on the phone reassuring customers that their formal wear needs will be met despite the fire. Saxin said her wholesaler has agreed to send what she needs overnight, so Arthur's will be able to provide customers their formal wear this weekend.

Fortunately, this weekend is not a particularly big one for weddings, as many locals try to avoid overlapping with Grandma's Marathon, when hotel rooms can be hard to find, Saxin said.

Arthur's was scheduled to move to a new location at Piedmont Plaza, 2826 Piedmont Ave., on July 1. The fire will move up that moving date. Saxin said she has advised customers to pick up orders at the new location, where they also will receive their final fittings.

One of those customers, Becky Lent of Lakeside, plans to wed Jason Kleiman on June 28. Lent first heard of the fire at Arthur's after her mother viewed a news report of the blaze. But the bride-to-be scarcely had time to worry.

"Paula called me at 11:30 in the morning to tell me everything would be OK. She's such a wonderful businessperson that I knew she would take care of things," Lent said.

As for the gym, Horton said he's looking for a new home where he can set up shop. Horton figures he needs 1,500 to 2,000 square feet of space.

"All I need is room for a ring and a place to hang a heavy bag," he said

Horton said he hasn't even considered hanging up his gloves. "There's no quit in a boxer."

He explained that a number of boxers, both professional and amateur, depend on him.

"They rely on me, not just to train them but to keep them on the straight and narrow. That's a huge obligation, and you can't just walk away," Horton said.