Amy and Tony Perrino were sitting in their Willoughby Hills, OH, living room around 10:30 p.m. Sept. 27, 2018, planning a vacation on Amy’s tablet, when Tony got an emergency call from an employee.
The Chardon, OH, business they had purchased in June was on fire.
“Tony just jumped off the couch and ran out the door,” said Amy, who stayed home with their two young boys who were asleep, “blissfully unaware,” in bed.
Water Street was closed, but Tony was ushered to the site of the huge conflagration.
“I was greeted by 12 fire departments,” he recalled.
Because a second roof had been built over the first one, it wasn’t possible to put the fire out entirely and the firefighters had to let it burn, protecting neighboring buildings, he said.
It was 5 a.m. before the last truck left.
“I just started sweeping the street. I didn’t know what else to do,” he recalled.
Eventually, the cause of the fire was narrowed down to an electrical source near the furnace, Tony said.
The fire jumpstarted plans the young couple had to enlarge the Chardon Collision building to nearly double the original size---just under 12,000 square feet---so they started the lengthy process of getting drawings made, funding found, zoning handled and permits approved, he said, adding the burned-out shell had to be demolished and removed.
The building was insured; however, since they had owned the facility for just three months, there were complications, some of which are still unresolved, Tony said.
Regardless, concrete walls for Action CARSTAR-Chardon Square started to go up in November 2019.
“The fire derailed our business,” Tony said, adding, however, it didn’t stop the couple from making their mark in Chardon.
When they bought the collision center from Bob Sipos, the deal included his Firestone tire business just down the hill.
The Perrinos expanded the car maintenance operation and started selling Michelin, BF Goodrich and Uniroyal tires, retaining a number of the previous owner’s customers.
“Customer response has been great,” Tony said. “Bob stops in all the time. His customers trust he’d sell to people who care.”
Construction, handled by Tony’s father, Pat Perrino, owner of Perrino Builders, continued until winter weather called a halt. Come spring, the red roof, visible from Chardon Square, went up and the concrete floor was poured May 26---all despite some rescheduling required by the COVID-19 construction regulations, Tony said.
The service garage at the back of the huge structure has four bays and Tony was looking forward to June 5, to put together the high-tech paint room due to arrive in pieces. He described it as a “building within a building.”
The size and design of the garage area will accommodate a different flow of work and the waterborne paint system incorporates infrared drying, he said.
“It’s safer for our employees and for the environment,” Tony said. “It will all be state-of-the-art equipment, so we can fix cars the way we want to.”
It’s not the Perrinos' first experience with business. They bought Perrino Action CARSTAR Auto Body Repair Shop and Collision Center in Euclid from Tony’s father six years ago and have expanded it from five employees to 28.
The Euclid and Chardon shops absorbed most of the employees who had worked at the collision center before the fire, Amy said.
“Everybody who was there before the fire is still employed,” she said. “We’re keeping everybody employed. We really wanted to do that.”
When the new facility opens late this summer, the couple expects to have 10 employees initially and expand as needed.
Support from the community has been terrific, Tony said, noting how helpful the City of Chardon and Chardon Fire Department have been throughout rebuilding process.
“They helped us navigate through it. It really lessened the blow of the fire,” Amy said. “We were an eyesore for a long time.”
Once the building is up and the business is running, hopefully by the end of August, the Perrinos still have landscaping work to do.
“We intruded on (Richard’s Maple Products) property line. We have to get them back to normal,” Tony said.
Raising the business from the ashes has been a three-generation family affair, with the Perrino boys excited about the construction and leaving their handprints in the fresh concrete floor, Tony said.
Amy added they tried to keep family life normal for their sons Giovanni and Anthony, despite various stress points over the last two years.
“You know how it is---two big Italian families. We work and eat our comfort food together,” she laughed.
When the dust settles, the Perrinos hope to become more involved in community activities, Tony said.