From the ashes of the burned out North Lawrence video store he managed, Jim Hoertch basks in the warmth of human kindness.
An early morning electrical fire a week ago at Vipers Video, 701 Locust, caused $35,000 in damage to the building and destroyed Hoertch's collection of about 1,500 video cassettes and scores of records, posters and video games. He did not carry insurance on the items, and he estimates his loss in the $15,000 to $20,000 range.
"Financially, it ruined me," said Hoertch, who also works at the Union Bus Terminal.
But the 60-year-old Hoertch has been enriched by the help of his landlord, neighbors, customers and friends. Plans to rebuild the store at the site were already on the drawing board before the fire. A hand-written sign outside the building's blackened front door directs customers to a neighbor's house for video returns, and about 50 cassettes have been turned in there.
HOERTCH also has received numerous calls from people wanting to donate money to help him recover his losses. A refrigerator to store soft drinks for customers in the new store has been secured. A local contractor has offered his time to install shelving in the new store.
Apparently, the acts of community kindness stem from Hoertch's personal touch in running the business.
"It was more than a video store," he said. "We knew all the customers. It was a neighborhood store. It was the kind of a place where the kids came in, rented their games and got pop and candy and stuff.
"It was like the old times if they didn't have the money for the video that night, they could still take it out and bring me the money later. It was not an impersonal-type store."
Hoertch is touched by the caring shown him by others.
"I CAN'T believe people have been so good and enjoyed the place so much," he said.
With a soft voice, Hoertch pointed out to a visitor where the merchandise had been displayed in the charred remains of the store. Many of the videos are out of print, he said, and his old record collection drew customers from Topeka, Ottawa and Kansas City.
Hoertch also is saddened that the store will be razed. The new store will be built next to the old store, with a parking lot planned where the old store stands.
"The building will be missed because a lot of people liked the old building," he said. "It was kind of a landmark there. The new store will never take the place of the old one."
VIPERS VIDEO opened in the summer of 1990. The building had housed many businesses over the years, including Moon's Variety Store for more than 20 years and Shield's Meat Market before that. Moon's store also was known for its neighborhood appeal, featuring candy for children and a collection of concrete yard ornaments.
Hoertch is proud he retained the old flavor of the building in his business. He said he would try to do the same in the new store. His landlord, Jim Bigger of Jiron Management, has made many concessions so Hoertch can get started again, Hoertch said.
"I might just open with snacks first, if we can't replace the videos," he said.
People interesting in assisting Hoertch can send contributions to the Vipers Fund, P.O. Box 1169, Lawrence 66044. He also can provide a list of available videos for home delivery.