Not many visitors or islanders have been able to resist the allure of dining on Downrigger’s deck. A sunny day overlooking the water, munching on a tasty burger or fish taco, sipping a beverage, watching the boats come and go; it’s the perfect “banana belt” way to enjoy a meal.
The fire that destroyed the Downriggers building during the early morning hours of August 17th will have a far reaching impact. Our hearts go out to owner Debbie Rishel and to her employees. For a business owner to suffer such a devastating loss, particularly during the high season, will require the strength of a phoenix to overcome. For employees, it’s tough enough on this island to find steady, year-round work; to be without income so abruptly will no doubt cause enormous financial strain on many families.
Like the flow of water, the consequences of the fire will ripple throughout the community in untold losses: an iconic building on our waterfront means no more beautiful photo ops; fewer opportunities for outdoor casual dining; less tax revenue; less money circulating throughout the community; one less meeting space, to say the least.
The Coho crew happened to be down at the docks early that morning to deliver a catering job to a boat. Anna Maria reports: “All the boats had been moved from the harbor but the farmers were unloading produce for the market. The mood was really somber. Debbie was on the corner with other members of her team and everyone was coming up to wish her condolences.”
The crews from the businesses below the restaurant, San Juan Excursions, San Juan Safaris, and Friday Harbor Marine, have been models of stoic fortitude. From the early hours of the morning they were moving files and equipment from the offices to minimize water damage, and have been operating in full capacity as if nothing happened.
As so often demonstrated, the community of Friday Harbor is generous and caring. There were no by-standers that night; everyone was helping to move things. The San Juan Journal reported that with the help of many Downriggers employees, Debbie was able to retrieve a stockpile of food that had been set aside in a storage cooler for a fund-raiser dinner for the high school booster club that night. The booster club, in turn, changed it to a fund raiser for Downriggers.
The fire has touched everyone who lives in Friday Harbor, and it is these touching moments that remind us of what life is really about. The group that we catered for at Coho that evening had watched the fire blaze away from their hotel window. At the dinner, the Birthday Girl recounted the scene of a first responder giving a red photo album to a woman (we presume Debbie), then the first responder and the woman embraced. As the Birthday Girl toasted at the restaurant that night, she said that scene put into perspective what is important in life: memories. She was celebrating her 50th birthday surrounded by family and friends.
Please take a moment, right now, and give thanks for your family, friends, and community.
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