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Tellers indefinitely closed; Ragtag's operations relocated after fire

Firefighters raise a ladder up into the True/False Film Fest office in response to a fire on Friday on Ninth Street in Columbia on Friday, Sept. 15.
Lily Dozier
Columbia Missourian
Firefighters raise a ladder up into the True/False Film Fest office in response to a fire on Friday on Ninth Street in Columbia on Friday, Sept. 15.

Tellers Gallery and Bar is closed for the foreseeable future after a Friday fire ravaged Ragtag’s off-site offices at 820 E. Broadway. Ragtag’s operations have been temporarily relocated to its cinema space.

Clayton Gause is a project manager for SERVPRO of Columbia, a restoration service handling the cleanup. He said the fire was caused by a microwave on the second floor. Jeffrey Heidenreich, assistant chief at the Columbia Fire Department, said its official cause is still under investigation.

“It’s probably going to be a total loss upstairs,” Gause said.

Tellers, located on the ground floor, also suffered damage. While the full extent of this damage is yet to be determined, the restaurant will require contact cleaning and at least some demolition, Gause said. A sign on the door advises that Tellers will be closed for the foreseeable future — about four to eight weeks is the goal, Gause said.

“The entire building saw fire damage or smoke damage or water damage,” Heidenreich said.

818 Broadway, a residential building next door, will need “cleaning and deodorization,” Gause said.

Grace Piontek, operations director for True/False Film Fest, was the first to spot the fire, according to previous Missourian reporting.

“I was in my office, and I smelled something strange,” Piontek said. “Then I went down to the bullpen, which is another office space we have, and saw flames.”

The Columbia Fire Department responded to the scene just after 12:50 p.m. Friday, Heidenreich said.

According to Heidenreich, the first firefighter on-site noted “flashover conditions in the fire room, as well as fire extending up the stairwell.” The well-developed fire had the potential “to escalate into a catastrophic incident,” Heidenreich said.

Arin Liberman, executive director of the Ragtag Film Society, said all staff members were able to get out safely. There were no civilian injuries, Heidenreich said, although several members of the the fire department were evaluated for heat exhaustion on-site before returning to duty.

Heidenreich said he was proud of the department for their quick response to the fire. The building was reopened at the end of the day, Liberman said. It remains closed to the public.

“We were able to get in and try to prioritize things that were truly singular, but I have no doubt that there’s a lot of stuff (lost) that is irreplaceable,” Liberman said. “It had accumulated a lot of history, a lot of memories, and it’s going to be tough.”

Ragtag has received incredible support from the community, Liberman said. Anyone interested in making a donation to the nonprofit can do so online at ragtagcinema.org and truefalse.org.

According to a GoFundMe campaign created for Tellers employees, more than 40 staff members are temporarily out of a job until the restaurant reopens. As of Monday, 70 people have donated over $8,000 toward the $70,000 goal.

The Columbia Missourian is a community news organization managed by professional editors and staffed by Missouri School of Journalism students who do the reporting, design, copy editing, information graphics, photography and multimedia.
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