After smoke from The Vault Smokehouse seeped through the adjacent wall of Multitudes, the owner of the boutique was forced to close the storefront and liquidated all merchandise exposed to the barbecue smell.
Kelly Hale, Multitudes store owner, and her husband, Tom, are currently searching for a temporary set up and have even pondered the thought of having to close down for good.
Both store owners, Hale along with Money and Jason Salmon with The Vault, have continued to work together to solve the mystery behind the smoky smell permeating through the building. Kelly and Money have even joined hands in prayer in hopes of finding a solution.
Unfortunately, Kelly said the odor has damaged her products and in-store customers are put off by it. Some customers have even returned clothing purchased online due to the smell.
Right now, “it’s a complicated situation,” Tom said. The Hales are currently working with the City of Waxahachie and real estate developers to analyze various options.
“We love Waxahachie, it’s our home, and we want to be here,” Tom affirmed.
Unfortunately, a permanent closure is also an option. In the meantime, Kelly has set up shop at her home and is focused on her online presence.
“Whether we go out or not, we are going to do it with dignity and faith," said Kelly with an emotional tone. "We are not going to point fingers. That’s not who I am. We have suffered a loss and I do believe someone will be responsible for that. I don’t know what that means yet or what that looks like.”
Multitudes' fourth-quarter sales have suffered from the storefront closure. Amber Caverly, president of the Waxahachie Downtown Merchants Association, expressed that Multitudes is a vital shop to the downtown area.
“She is a huge asset to downtown not only as a business but as a businesswoman and as part of WDMA,” Caverly emphasized.
Kelly has served on the WDMA board for several years since first opening the doors to Multitudes in 2014. She currently serves as the treasurer and previously as vice president. Her presence has been vital, Caverly said.
“She has a very large local following and serves a demographic that none of the stores in Waxahachie serve. Her demographic is a little bit younger and trendier than the rest of the boutiques,” Caverly elaborated.
Kelly hopes to reopen her doors in a temporary location by Oct. 1, hopefully in downtown Waxahachie.
A SMOKY START
On Aug. 9, the smokestack connected to The Vault's indoor smoker that pushes the smoke directly out of the building malfunctioned. A weak layer of smoke filled The Vault, and Jason said he caught the error in no time, noting the smoke detectors did not even sound.
“The chimney cap was too close. […], So when the air was coming out, it was hitting the cap and pushing back down. So even that night when we had the smoke coming in here, we pulled that cap off. We essentially fixed the problem that night,” Jason explained.
That same evening was Ladies Night Out in downtown Waxahachie, which is when local stores host deals and provide free cocktails to shoppers.
Kelly recalled visitors to Multitudes being overwhelmed by the smell of smoke. It was a fear the Hales had upon learning of who would be their new neighbor.
“Ten days after The Vault opened, we had Stanley Restoration come do an evaluation, and they were actually the ones that found a hole between our stores. So we really hoped that we had found the source at that time,” Kelly explained.
The mitigation manager for Stanley Restoration, Johnny Bostick, relayed the two businesses share a wall with a 12-foot cavity sealed with sheetrock on both sides and without insolation. Also, above each store is a shared, vacant office space. Multitudes has high ceilings while a loft oversees the restaurant. It was in the loft that Stanley Restoration found the hole.
The landlord had the hole patched.
Shannon Simpson, curator of the Ellis County Museum, said the smoke smell was strong at first and came in waves, but has subsided. He is not too worried about the artifacts at this time. The museum is also located inside the building and shares a wall with Multitudes. The suite that houses the museum dates back to 1889.
The City of Waxahachie confirmed The Vault met all codes before moving into the slot. Money and Jason even requested to locate the smoker outside. According to Ryan Studdard, Waxahachie Director of Building and Community Services, the property lines and easements restricted the outside areas of the building.
“While they admit to all the codes, according to the city, and they were completely within their lawful right to do that, it just from a common sense perspective was not a great idea to put a barbecue restaurant inside a 100-year-old historic building,” Tom emphasized.
Stanley Restoration Vice President Janet Parks said it is not typical for barbecue restaurants to be placed in a building suite, as they are typically stand-alone storefronts. Parks classified the smell as a "protein odor," which “is the hardest to get rid of. […] It absorbs into everything.”
The company recommended the cleaning of all air ducts and coils and for a thermal fog to be used to absorb anything with the unwanted barbecue smell. As of now, a hydroxyl machine is utilized to treat the odor.
Parks spoke with Bostick and relayed that he recently inspected Multitudes and noticed improvements since the initial inspection. She also said he expressed that the two additional services should get rid of the smell since the hole has since been patched.
The three services came with a price tag of $3,879. Kelly said she presented the amount to the landlord who then suggested she figure it out with the Salmons.
The Salmons contacted their insurance company, Davis Insurance, about the smoke damage and filed a claim on Aug. 20. According to the couple, Davis Insurance then reached out to Union Standard. A Union Standard representative came out a week later to review the claim and informed the Salmons the investigation was still open.
The Salmon’s intention was for the insurance company to find a solution and get money in the Hales' hands so both businesses can continue to operate as usual. But, the investigation is ongoing, and no answers have been provided.
The Salmons explained they have tried nearly every alternative to help deter the smell, even changing the smoking schedule to lessen a strong odor during store hours. Kelly communicated the scent came in waves and at sometimes was strongest when the smoker wasn’t on.
“When they were smelling it we weren’t smoking,” Money said.
The Salmons then switched the woodchips they used and eliminated the post oak since it can have an overpowering odor. They have also assured the air ducts are not connected between the two storefronts.
The only thing Jason could think of is that the air conditioning units are both on the backside of the building. An outside unit draws outside air in and cools it for indoors.
“It was never in our heart that the events would negatively affect their business,” Money explained. “We were trying to kill fires on our end — like get our world in order here, and we didn’t know our world was affecting theirs,” Money said.
The situation is an unfortunate one for both businesses, as The Vault relocated to the square after being forced out of The Red Barn due to the TxDOT viaduct extension project. The Salmons coordinated with the city also and adequately purchased equipment to smoke inside.
“This business funds a ministry, "Money explained. "We don’t try to look for notoriety in that, but it does fund that. And it’s not just our family’s livelihood but different factors of families that are attached to this business. Not only with employment but food and ministering to the community. The hardest part is, you know when you have the heart to help people, you don’t ever want to hurt somebody to help.”
Multitudes is currently operating online and purchases can be made at www.mymultitudes.com.
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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450