After downtown fire, Seymour woman reopens salon

As if losing her home to a flood in 2008 wasn’t difficult enough, Maria Isabel Ponce found herself homeless again earlier this year because of a fire.

On Jan. 4, a fire started in a dryer in a residential area above 110 W. Second St., which was next to Ponce’s home and businesses, Isabel’s Estetica and Novedades Maria, at 108 W. Second St.

That wound up destroying both residences and businesses, including bricks from the top part of the building Ponce rented crumbling to the ground. The other building, which housed Second Street Styles and Hair Force Beauty Academy downstairs, also had meaning to Ponce because she earned her cosmetology and teaching licenses from the school.

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Once again, Ponce and her family had to find a way to move on with their lives.

Soon after the fire, Ponce happened to see a vacant building at 512 E. Tipton St. in the Midtown Plaza and inquired about it.

About a week later, Estetica Isabel’s Beauty Salon and Multiservicios Maria opened after she signed a three-year lease.

As far as a home, she and her family temporarily have been renting one and hope to buy a home sometime in the future.

Ponce said she’s fortunate because many people, including fellow members of St. Ambrose Catholic Church in Seymour, supported the family by donating clothing, money or gift cards, praying or calling to check on them.

“Seymour is my home,” she said. “All of the people were very nice. I need to say ‘thank you’ to everybody. Maybe people didn’t have the money, but they prayed for us. This is important because they had the time for us. I am really grateful they took the time to call and ask how we were.”

At the time of the June 8, 2008, flood in Columbus, Ponce and her daughter, Xochitl Rizo, were working in downtown Seymour.

Rizo said her father and brother were at home along with her grandmother visiting from Mexico.

The family had just moved in a couple of days before. Some of their possessions were still in boxes.

The flood, however, caused them to lose everything they had.

“It got pretty bad quick. They had no time to get anything out,” Rizo said. “We basically had to start over again.”

After living with family for a few months, they moved to 108 W. Second St. to be close to their business, which then was at 125 W. Second St.

About four years ago, they began renting space below their home for the salon and store, which sold clothing and cellphones and offered money transfer and bill paying services.

The day of the fire, Rizo’s aunt, daughter, cousin, boyfriend and two dogs were upstairs, while she and three other employees and three customers were downstairs.

Rizo was getting ready to leave to pick up her mother from the airport. As she walked out the door, she saw people coming out of the building next door. A co-worker then asked her what was going on, and they learned there was a fire.

“I just stood at the door and screamed at everybody to get out,” she said.

Rizo then rushed upstairs to tell everyone to get out. After carrying her daughter downstairs, she went back up to get the dogs out.

“They were all the way at the end where the fire started, so it was pretty dark,” she said.

The family briefly went a block away to seek shelter, and then Rizo said she walked back over to the scene of the fire. Soon after, she saw the front part of the building collapse.

“I think that’s when it just finally hit me, like, ‘OK, yeah, we lost everything. We lost our home,’” she said. “I think at first, I kind of had hope that it’s not going to be that bad, but once I saw that and saw how bad it was, I broke down.”

Rizo said the fire quickly went through their residential area.

“I think with our building, it caught on fire quicker because we did remodel a lot in the building, so we had more drywall, wood and things like that, where the other buildings, they were still like they (originally) were,” she said.

Since she couldn’t access her car because it was near the downtown blaze, Rizo called her brother to take her to the airport to pick up their mother.

Rizo said it was difficult to tell her mother what happened. When Ponce arrived downtown, she couldn’t believe what she saw.

“She was in shock,” Rizo said. “It took maybe five to 10 minutes before it kind of sinked in, and she started crying and realized this is happening, it’s not a dream, it’s her home.”

Ponce said she was most worried about her family and was relieved to hear everyone was OK.

The next day, they were able to briefly go back into the building. Unfortunately, not much was salvageable upstairs or downstairs. They had stopped selling clothes a few weeks before and stored them in the basement, but they were destroyed from all of the water used to fight the blaze.

“You couldn’t even tell where the rooms were at or anything like that anymore. It was pretty bad. It was pretty sad just to look at,” Rizo said of the residential area.

“You never think it’s going to happen to you. That’s what we said the whole time,” she said. “You see it on TV and hear about it happening to other people, but you never really sit down and say, ‘What if this happens to us?’ until now. People need to be prepared and get insurance on their buildings and be ready for situations like that because it can happen to anybody.”

Ponce’s thoughts then turned to getting her business back up and running so she could earn money to find a home.

“When that happened, everybody sent me messages to say, ‘We’ll wait for you when you’re back,’” Ponce said of her customers.

When Ponce opened the salon at the new location Jan. 13, she just had a couple of styling chairs and mirrors. She now has six stations for stylists, a hair-washing area, a display to sell hair products and waiting area chairs.

Multiservicios Maria is at the other end of the building offering cellphone, money transfer and bill paying services.

The visibility of the new location along East Tipton Street or U.S. 50 has resulted in several new customers.

“We’re getting new people in. I think it’s because of the location. They see it along 50, and they like it and come back,” Rizo said. “With being on Tipton right here, it kind of helps a little because people just drive by or are walking by.”

Considering everything the family has gone through, Rizo said they are in a good position now in terms of the businesses and their home.

“At first, we were pretty devastated that we lost everything, but we’re very thankful that everyone’s OK. That’s what matters,” she said. “Things will slowly come together, and they are. The business is doing pretty good. We got a lot of support from people, so that was big. They helped us a lot.”

Rizo said Ponce has helped people in need over the years, so they were glad to see everyone become united and help those affected by the fire.

“When you do something good for somebody, it multiplies,” Ponce said. “I feel blessed.”

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Maria Isabel Ponce lost her home and businesses after the fire Jan. 4 in downtown Seymour.

About a week later, she opened Estetica Isabel’s Beauty Salon and Multiservicios Maria in a new location at 512 E. Tipton St., Seymour.

The phone number for the salon is 812-523-1729, while the service store can be reached at 812-519-3106.