Longtime east side business burns in Friday morning fire

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INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. -- A fire burns through a historic east side business a staple in the neighborhood for nearly a century.

“It’s just losing a part of the family, you know?” Willis Brent thought out loud as he steps across the burned pieces of the building he meticulously renovated years ago.

Firefighters were called to his local dry cleaners around 11 a.m. on Friday.

Flames quickly spread through the one-story building and caused at least six hundred thousand dollars in damage.

“Right now I don’t know what I’m going to do,” said Brent, who owns the business at 25th and Wheeler.

He looks at clothes people had yet to pick up and the charred hangers they still rest on. And yet, Brent remains hopeful. He has to.

After all, this dry cleaner has been part of Willis Brent’s life for almost as long as he’s been alive.

Every day, Brent walked past the business, then he worked there until it went up for sale when the owner was retiring.

Brent was retiring too. But he wanted something to do, so he bought the place.

“The older people had a place to come bring their clothes and I know everybody in the neighborhood almost,” said Brent. “They didn’t have transportation to go to other big cleaners.”

Now Brent’s Elite Cleaners, the dry cleaners has been in the neighborhood longer than most can remember.

“He had the building when the street out here was not paved. So it’s been here a long time,” said Brent.

Despite the state of the historic building now, Brent believes it’s too important to the neighborhood to let go of it without a fight.

“It would be important to me to have me something to do and have the neighborhood have somewhere they could bring the clothes, to bring the business back,” said Brent.

Neighbors, pastors and community leaders are already by his side, offering any help they can.

These are the people Brent thought of when he arrived on scene—his community and customers.

A fire official says when Brent arrived on scene, he desperately asked the firefighters to try to save his logbooks. He wanted to know who had clothes there when the fire started, so he could make it right with all of them.

And those are the people he thinks about as he tries to work out what he’s going to do next.

While there’s a lot he doesn’t know right now, to Brent, the future of his business is pretty clear.

“I have no idea how I’m going to do it, but I do know what I’m going to do. I know I’m going to rebuild it,” said Brent.

The preliminary cause of the fire is electrical, but an official ruling has yet to come from the Indianapolis Fire Department.

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