ARKADELPHIA, Ark.—Sparks Auto Center Inc. had been doing business in downtown Arkadelphia for more than 50 years. In three seconds, it was gone. The family-run business was among the casualties of a tornado that ripped through the town March 1.
The small independent dealership, which sold Mastercraft and Laramie tires and offered auto repair, wasn't insured, and the loss of its two brick buildings and inventory was estimated at about $200,000, according to owner Don Sparks.
Despite a loan opportunity from the Federal Emergency Management Administration and a $500 contribution from the Arkansas Independent Tire Dealers Association, the Sparks made the decision to not rebuild the business.
``It was a hard decision to make,'' said Don Sparks, who had worked in the business since 1947, three years after his father opened the tire and auto service shop in downtown Arkadelphia. His son, Ken, had been running the business for the past 12 years, but Don still maintained an active role.
Two months after the tragedy, the depression of losing everything was just sinking in, according to Don Sparks' wife, Wanza.
The difficult decision to close the business was made after considering the prospect of large loan payments and the usual costs of running a business in a downtown that no longer has any businesses to attract customers to the district, according to Mrs. Sparks.
``It doesn't look feasible,'' she said. The consensus is that the downtown won't return to the way it was for two to five years.
While the elder Sparks face retirement, their son Ken is looking for other employment, according to Don Sparks.
The tire shop and many downtown businesses usually were closed on Saturdays but on the Saturday of the tornado, Ken Sparks was working on some cars that he had promised customers would be ready Monday, said Mrs. Sparks.
Shortly before 2 p.m., he went home a few blocks away to get some lunch and was on his way back to the shop when he stopped at the fire station where he volunteers as a firefighter. It was that detour that kept him from being at the dealership when it was blown apart just a few minutes later by the tornado, according to Mrs. Sparks.
Mr. Sparks said the tornado was the strongest in memory, clocked at about 240 mph when it blew through town. Amid the destruction, he said, it was amazing that only seven people lost their lives in the storm.