Maryland farm business rebuilds after 2008 fire

JEFFERSON — Looking back on the fire that razed H.C. Summers’ 3,700-square-foot feed section in 2008, Tom Summers is grateful the five-generation business is still in operation.

Though the damage was extensive, the business — a pet, livestock, farm and lawn store at 40002 Jefferson Pike — did not entirely close. Two days after the fire, the Summers brothers opened for business out of an old wooden building, formerly a trolley barn.

“If we didn’t have that, I don’t know what we would have done,” Summers said. “For our sake, it was important that we did not close. I wouldn’t say we were up and running two days later. We were limping.”

Getting the business rebuilt was an education for the family in the ways of Frederick County planning and zoning.

“Getting a building permit to rebuild the same size structure on the same foundation to continue what we’ve always been doing became a problem,” Summers said.

Summers said he didn’t believe the “formalized site plan” the building code required was necessary to replace a structure that had been in place for more than 100 years.

The Summerses had to hire a lawyer to push the project forward, and after two years and five months, the rebuilding was completed. The new section opened in December.

Codes that can be roadblocks to commercial enterprise don’t help the county, Summers said.

“I heard that a huge percentage of businesses don’t come back after a flood or fire or other catastrophe due to regulations,” Summers said. “I guess the staff looking at the codes were just doing their jobs, but at some point you got to employ common sense. Nobody was ever nasty. They just got nothing done.”

The experience resulted in a positive outcome. A text amendment was approved to allow cases like the Summerses’ to be handled at staff level to expedite rebuilding.

Summers also praised United Farm Family Insurance, the Jefferson community and volunteer firefighters.

The fire started at 2 a.m., and at 6 a.m. a representative from The Piedmont Group, an agent for United Farm Family, was on the scene to help get the paperwork started, Summers said.

“I can never forget that. The Jefferson Volunteer Fire Co. was here within 10 minutes and when we saw people coming and breaking down in tears, it gave us the feeling we were not in it by ourselves,” Summers said.

With spring in full bloom, business is good, Summers said.

The store has been “hitting all cylinders at the same time” as people begin planting, working outside and buying mowers, and there’s been a huge upswing in gardening in the last few years due to the high cost of produce at the grocery store, Summers said.

“We want to extend a huge ‘thank you’ to everybody that made it happen for us, even the planning and zoning people,” Summers said.

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