Tori Sutton, Stratford Gazette
Seeing Mike Vancea sit comfortably behind his desk in his Huron Street office Friday, it’s hard to believe what unfolded on the site just 11 months ago.
It was Nov. 11, 2011 when Vancea, his wife Carla and members of his staff from Vancea Financial Group “Freedom 55” watched their building at the corner of Huron and John streets go up in flames.
In a matter of hours, the office and the apartment upstairs were destroyed. The cause of the fire was never determined, but was not suspicious.
No one was injured, but everything – from computers to paper clips – was lost in the fire.
So when the doors officially opened in the new building on Tuesday, Vancea was thrilled to get down to business.
“If I look at it from the outside, it’s a great story, it’s an amazing thing,” Vancea said, reflecting on the adversity he has overcome since the fire. “But when you’re in it, you just do. You have to and that’s the way we chose to do it.”
The newly constructed building features 2,000-square-feet of office space on the main floor and two apartments – two bedroom units with high-end finishes – on the second storey.
It provides more than enough space for the financial group’s six advisors and two marketing assistants.
Many would see a devastating event like the fire as the beginning of the end, but it’s had the opposite effect on Vancea and the business.
During the transition period, while working out of space provided by Steed Transport on Romeo Street, Vancea Financial continued to thrive, even expanding to bring on new staff members.
And Vancea knew replacing the gutted building on the cheap wasn’t something he was interested in doing.
He and his wife hired general contractor Adam Hoefer and consulted with neighbours for feedback before moving forward with the plans.
The result is a tastefully landscaped red-brick building that could easily pass for a residential dwelling if it weren’t for the signs on its corner.
“The building that we have now is actually beautiful,” he said. “We went out of our way, and spent more money than what we needed to, to make this building look nice.”
Not surprisingly, the best in fire protection, including an east wall made out of 100 per cent non-combustible material, was integrated in the building.
The alarm system is now wired directly to the fire department, which will be automatically dispatched if a carbon monoxide leak or fire is detected.
While he was lucky to have not lost any important client data, and was able to protect their confidentiality, more advanced computer back-up systems have been put in place, as well.
“We’ve actually become a much smarter operation,” he said.
But he won’t soon forget the fire, or the decisions he and Carla made after it happened.
The couple figured they could sit back and feel sorry for themselves or they could do something about it.
Just a day after the fire, they sat together looking at the building and laughing, something Vancea admits must have left passersby puzzled.
“We were able to have a laugh, look at the situation and know how crazy and surreal this moment in our life actually was,” he said. “We knew we had options ... it’s not in my personality to lay down.”
Though he always knew Stratford was a supportive community, he experienced it first hand.
Immediately, people were reaching out, offering their professional expertise, office space, furniture and more.
“We can’t believe the outpouring of support from people who we knew were our friends and people who didn’t know us at all,” he said.
Most of all, he wants other business owners to learn from his experience.
He recommends sitting down with your insurance broker annually to learn more about coverage and best practices.
“In the end, we would never recommend anyone go through a fire,” he said. “But if you have to, I would recommend you do things right the next time you have the chance ... I think we did things right.”
Vancea Financial Group welcomes clients or any member of the community interested in checking out the new building to stop by during office hours for a tour.