On the eve of Thanksgiving, Nicolette Valdespino got a call from her stepdaughter.
“Paris is burning,” her stepdaughter said.
Meaning, Paris on Ponce — a bohemian artists’ market in Midtown Atlanta that Valdespino co-owns. As she rushed there from her Druid Hills home, Valdespino smelled the fire even before she could see the blaze.
The 46,000-square-foot building erupted in a two-alarm fire shortly before 9:30 p.m.
By the time the flames were put out, the building was still standing, but the inside was ravaged.
The 100-year-old building has lived many lives in the last century.
Erected in 1919, it was first home to the Colgate Mattress Factory. Now, Atlanta’s Ponce De Leon Avenue is one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares, lined with trendy shops and eateries.
But around the turn of the century, it was dotted with factories like the Ford Motor Company assembly plant, which is now home to the re-designed Beltline Kroger and, of course, the Sears, Roebuck and Co. regional headquarters, which is now home to Ponce City Market.
Since 1995, the original Colgate Mattress Factory warehouse, located along the Eastside Beltline Trail, has been occupied by Paris on Ponce.
And now, in the wake of the fire, Valdespino, and co-owner Skip Engelbrecht, are hoping the renaissance building has at least one more life in it. And they’re calling upon the community to help make that happen.
Valdespino recently set up a GoFundMe page with the goal of raising $100,000 to restore the space.
In the days since that initial phone call and rushing to the scene, Valdespino said she’s been “heartbroken,” but also amazed by the outpouring of support.
“As we collectively careened towards the building, seeing the flames erupt from our home was beyond heart rending. It is catastrophic, but nothing that we aren’t ready to tackle,” Valdespino wrote in a post on the crowdfunding platform.
The source of the fire remains unknown. In a tweet, the Atlanta Fire and Rescue Department said the fire caused “severe damage to the structure.”
“A fast and aggressive fire attack by our firefighters last night saved the majority of a large commercial building at 716 Ponce de Leon Place near the #Beltline,” the tweet reads. “Numerous businesses occupy the building, including #ParisOnPonce.”
While insurance will likely kick in to help with structural damages, Paris on Ponce is a tenant in the building and, per their lease agreement, Valdespino and Engelbrecht will be responsible for the internal repairs. Currently, the building doesn’t have water or power.
“This is our entire life,” Valdespino said of the business. “It is a project that is so ingrained in us and our hearts. The encouragement from everybody goes to show what we did and will try to continue to do is what the community wants.”
She said she has been “dumbfounded” by the the amount of people who have offered to help.
By Wednesday afternoon, the online fundraiser for the gallery and antique shop had pulled in more than $14,000. Donors, who chipped in anywhere from $5-$1,000, recalled fond memories of the space in comments on the page.
“Paris on Ponce is an awesome place to be and they work with the community,” Angela Escobar wrote.
Another donor, Veronica Cuevas, said she no longer lives in Atlanta, but still hopes to see the business bounce back.
“I donated because Paris on Ponce is one of the reasons we love Atlanta! My husband and I live in DC now and we hope you guys are back and better than ever by the time we head back for a visit home to ATL,” she wrote.
Donor Kellie Aucoin wrote, “was introduced to this amazing place by my father in law who tragically passed away in August. Donating in memory to him and his beautiful, eclectic tastes that drew both of us to Paris on Ponce.”
Atlanta is known for rebuilding after fire — symbolized in the Phoenix emblazoned on the city seal. Valdespino and Engelbrecht are hoping that that spirit of revival will ring true for their business as well.
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