The giant white block letters on the red facade couldn’t be more direct. “Restaurant,” the building says to travelers on the east end of the village of Melrose.
But Melrose Tire, affectionately called, “Dale’s Restaurant” by the village of 650, is out of commission after a Sunday night fire that leaves residents at a loss for what they’ll do without it until further notice.
“It’s a meeting place, it’s kind of the life of the town,” said Robin Widner, who has lived in Melrose for 20 years. “It’s a hangout, especially for the older residents to go drink coffee.
“It hurts the town, it hurts the people who work there.”
The Sunday night fire damaged the interior of the building, which housed a restaurant and convenience store, and did noticeable damage to the tire shop on the property’s west end.
Attempts to contact owner Dale Bigler and spokespeople for the state fire marshal, which is handling the investigation, were unsuccessful Tuesday.
Word of the fire spread quickly Monday morning to a village that counted on the shop for almost anything they could name.
Heather Sullivan’s family has lived in Melrose about a year, and she said she didn’t believe the news until she checked her Facebook and, “What are we going to do without Dales?” was posted on a friend’s status.
“It’s known as Melrose Tire, but we all call it Dale’s,” she said. “That was the place you go to after church. We would go there after football games. We would take kids there. It’s kind of an icon of Melrose.”
She said when a charity motorcyle ride was done for her 5-year-old son Jack, shop employees gave Jack some orange juice. Ever since, Jack loves to go see “Mr. Dale” while he and his mother grab daily slush drinks and just about anything else.
“I had to break the news to him,” Heather Sullivan said. “He didn’t believe me until we went by. He’s a mess.”
The family has taken Jack back and forth to Houston for treatments for neuroblastoma, a cancer that affects nerve tissue, and Heather Sullivan said Melrose has always treated them like longtime family members.
Without the restaurant, the village has few options. There is a barbecue restaurant, Widner said, but it currently operates Wednesday through Sunday and is built more as a to-go restaurant than a sit-down location.
That meant Monday, the Allsup’s convenience store was the only place to buy cooked food or basic supplies such as a gallon of milk. Staff at the convenience store said traffic had more than doubled, and they’d been stocking and cooking all day.
While there are other places to get gasoline in Melrose, residents said, the farming population is hurt in the short term because Melrose Tire was the only place that sold diesel.
“It’s an important part of our town,” Curry County Commissioner and Melrose resident Wendel Bostwick said as he pulled into the American Heritage Bank it town. “I’m looking at my gauge right now. I’ve got to find a new place to get diesel until it’s back up. I have just enough to get to Clovis.”
Bostwick said it was commonplace to see residents eat two meals a day at the restaurant. Don Sullivan — no relation to Heather — said he would usually be there three times a day. Don’s wife, Lucy Sullivan, said when her husband told her the restaurant was gone, it felt like he had just told her that he was homeless.
“I’m over there every night at 7:30,” said Don Sullivan, who owns a backhoe digging service. “But now I’m in Clovis (for coffee tonight). I’m not in any hurry to go home.”