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One year after major fire, Judge's faring well

On a wall calendar inside Judge's Appliance, there's a note written in the upper left corner. It's a short note, mostly numbers. Aug. 26, 2010, 1:26 p.m., it reads.

The note marks a memorable Thursday afternoon for owner Tom Judge. It was at that exact time he called the Hastings Fire Department to his store along 33rd Street to extinguish a fire that was eating away his storefront and choking the rest of his building with smoke.

By the time the fire had been extinguished, the place was a mess. It took about three months to get it all cleaned up, Judge said, but it didn't stop him from meeting the needs of his customers.

"We never had any thought of not going back in," Judge said.

Less than two days after the fire, Judge's had its doors open to business.

"We were open Saturday morning at nine-o-clock," he said.

How did he do it? The store did a 360 - literally. The showroom had occupied the front of the building, naturally. Farther back into the property, an attached warehouse had been built. Judge simply flipped the two spaces. The warehouse became the showroom, and what used to be the showroom is now used for storage.

Fire isn't often considered a good thing for a business, but Judge says his business is better for it.

"It was a blessing in disguise," he said.

The move into the old warehouse tripled his display capacity and put his appliances in an area that's much more spacious, well-lit and cleaner than the original showroom. Money paid by his insurance company, EMC Insurance Companies, paid for the improvements to the warehouse, and the attention the fire brought Judge's Appliance has actually increased the amount of business Judge has done.

"Our business has probably almost doubled," he said.

Renovations and cleaning are done now. All that's left is the thanks Judge has for those who have helped him through the process. There are names and business cards taped to a refrigerator in his office to remind him of those people.

There's the fire department - not only the Hastings department but also those from surrounding areas that also responded, as well as the fire marshal. Tom Bakken at City Hall was an invaluable resource, Judge said. Three local contractors did the majority of the work renovating the storeroom. Mike Reuter of Reuter Renovations handled the drywall and plastering, Matt Freiermuth of Hastings Heating and Cooling got the heating system - which had been inoperable for two and a half months, Judge said - up and running again. Mike Judge of Judge Electric put all the wiring in place.

"They just did a hell of a job," Judge said.

He's thankful, too, that his insurance company was willing to work with him without involving lawyers.

"We were lucky to be working with a great insurance company," Judge said.

Now, perhaps, Judge can focus on another date coming up in April, when his business will celebrate 80 years of service in Hastings.