December 5, 2014 10:21:26 AM
RIENZI -- More than 100 years of Rienzi history and an entire downtown block went up in flames Wednesday morning in the edge of southern Alcorn County.
The small town's oldest business, Smith Drug Store, along with one other business, one vacant building and one apartment were all destroyed by the early morning blaze. The fire started inside the drug store shortly after 1 a.m., when owner Trevor Williams rolled out of bed to a phone call from his security company.
"They said a front window alarm had went off," said Williams. "My dad was the first person to get to the store. He saw a small fire in the front of the store, but he said it was too hot to go inside. By the time the first fire truck got there, the fire had spread to a gas heater and the building was completely engulfed."
It took seven local fire departments two and a half hours to gain control of the fire which also consumed the Scott Nash Woodworks business.
"When I saw the store on fire ... my livelihood going up in flames, it was devastating," said Williams. "It's a tough blow for me and my family and this town, but I know God has us in his hands and we will bounce back from this."
Williams purchased the drug store from his father, Noble, 10 years ago. Noble had owned the store, which included an old fashion soda fountain and hand-dipped ice cream, for more than 25 years.
Noble took over the reins in 1979. His uncle, Truman Smith, had previously owned the store and was the namesake of the long time business. Smith worked as a druggist in Rienzi for 46 years.
The store's exact opening date is unclear, but many believe it dates back to the 1800s. It definitely dated back to 1913, according to Noble, when the drug store was opened by Howard Stubblefield.
Although remodeling took place over the years, many things stayed the same -- such as a vintage ceiling fan and a skylight which was used before the store had electricity.
The store also acted as an unofficial museum of town history.
In recent years, Williams installed a security system. Bars were also installed across the front windows and doors.
"We've had a few unsuccessful break-ins over the years, but this time they got in," added Williams. "Whether they intended to start the fire or not, they got in."
Williams said the love and support from the community his family has felt since the fire has been amazing.
"We're already planning on opening a temporary location somewhere close," he said. "As soon as they'll let us, we will get in there and start rebuilding."
The building may be gone, but townsfolk will always have the memories.
Rienzi Alderman Dale Leonard remembers going to Smith's with his grandmother when he was young.
"What a devastating blow to the town and community," he said "The drugstore was a vital part and one of the main focal points of the town. It served the public for many generations."
Rienzi Mayor Walter Williams said he'll never forget what will soon be called the original drug store.
"My first job was there," he said. "I was 16 years old and would go to work there every day after school."
The mayor said he believes the store's temporary closing may generate up to a 75 percent loss in Rienzi sales tax revenue.
"Our number one priority is to rebuild the block," Williams said.
Williams said hopes the state can help the town rebuild the four destroyed buildings.
"So much Rienzi history is now gone," said Williams. "Up in smoke in a matter of minutes ... it's a sad day for this community."
Volunteer fire departments dispatched to the scene included Biggersville, Rienzi, Jacinto, Glen, Pisgah, Tuscumbia-New Candler and Farmington.
Alcorn County Director of Emergency Services Ricky Gibens said the fire is still under investigation.
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