Marty’s moves on

Published 3:32 pm Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Less than 12 months ago, Marty Miland was a happy business owner on Main Street in Austin.

Then, on Jan. 15, 2009, a large fire at the former Mi Tierra properties next door led to a massive firefighting response — a response that left Miland’s hobby store severely damaged by water from the fire hoses.

Miland decided that Marty’s Hobbycraft would not reopen, and this week the store owner has been working to finish clean-up work inside the building.

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Now nearly completely gutted, the space that was Marty’s Hobbycraft will likely soon go up for sale, ending a 20-year run for Miland.

“I really liked the business,” she said. “It was just something I enjoyed doing.”

Miland, 68, said she’s not sure what’s next in her life, but Marty’s is not likely to spring back to life in another location.

“I’m 68,” she reiterated for her reason.

Though hobbies like toy train collecting and model building — two of Miland’s specialties — have been declining in popularity in recent years, Miland said she still had regular shoppers.

And with Marty’s no longer open, downtown Austin is without a hobby shop for the first time in more than 50 years — Miland said the previous owner of her building sold collectibles for 32 years.

But Miland still has plenty of supplies — despite heavy damage to the store, much of her merchandise went unscathed — and she intends to continue selling what’s left on eBay.

“Once we get this cleaned up, we might sell more online,” Miland said.

‘It was worse than I expected’

Miland wasn’t able to enter her store for several days after the fire as crews continued to work at the neighboring properties.

But when she did finally get inside, the carnage was shocking.

“When we finally got in there, it was like ‘Oh my god,’” Miland said. “It was worse than I expected.”

The south wall, which borders the destroyed Top Ten Nails, was in the worst shape, with tagboard siding heavily warped from the water.

The ceiling also collected a lot of water — Miland said it was a “sponge” — and with all of it freezing over, overhead tiles got very heavy and collapsed. One time, Miland had to warn a visiting insurance agent to jump out of the way of a falling ceiling chunk.

Utilities were also cut off as the city worked amid the Main Street wreckage.

“It was like walking into a freezer,” Miland said of entering her store for the first time after the fire.

Before the fire, Miland had no immediate plans to close her store, but she understands that unexpected events sometimes force your hand.

“What are you gonna do?” she said.

Since then, she’s collected roughly $97,000 in insurance — the damage is an estimated $270,000, but Miland feels she’s been fairly compensated — but collecting it has been harder than usual because the city declared in February that the blaze was intentionally set.

No suspects or causes have been identified in the arson investigation, and Miland said she has “mixed feelings” about it.

Still, she is determined to move on and eventually sell the empty space, which Miland says is structurally sound.

Lighting up

The end of Miland’s clean-up work has coincided with the end of the city’s

Engineer Jon Erichson said at a council meeting earlier this month that the city has done basically all it can at the site, which is now covered in fresh dirt and grass seed.

It took roughly 10 months to get to this point because Maria Leon, owner of the Mi Tierra properties, initially refused to clean up her ravaged buildings.

The dispute made its way to Mower County court, and eventually the two sides settled, paving the way for work to go forward.

But because the now-barren land is privately owned, the city has to leave it as is.

The empty space may be a bit of an eyesore downtown, but Miland plans on doing what she can to help beautify the area before she’s fully moved out.

The property owner will have lights in her vacant windows to celebrate Friday’s “Christmas in the City.”

And when the lights come down, Miland’s run downtown will be over.

“I really enjoyed it,” she said.