Blackbird back from the blast
June 9, 2008 · Updated 6:45 PM
"The baker and the bakery are both getting back on their feet.When an oven exploded at the downtown Blackbird Bakery on June 1, co-owner Heidi Umphenour had her foot broken on several places. But when the bakery re-opens at 6 a.m. Friday morning, she'll be on her feet and ready to go, encumbered only by a light walking cast.We're recovering at about the same pace, she said about herself and her business.The heavy-duty oven blew up three and a half months ago, at dawn. The explosion lifted the roof off the building on the corner of Winslow Way and Madrone Lane, and blew through a wall connecting the bakery to the business on the east. The heavy oven lifted into the air and jumped forward, onto Umphenour's foot.It was like a tin can with a firecracker under it, bakery partner Jeff Shepard said. But the oven was so massive it contained the explosion. It saved lives.The only other bakery employee on the scene at the time suffered flash burns, but recovered quickly. Umphenour, though, spent time in a wheelchair and then on crutches before she started walking last week.While the building suffered structural damage, it was not as severe as first feared.The contractors fixed the structural damage in a couple of weeks, Shepard said. After that, it was mostly cosmetic work and lots of tests. They had to deconstruct some spaces to do inspections, but most of the systems were sound.The cause of the explosion has not been determined, Shepard said. Engineers suspect that there may have been a mechanical flaw in the oven.Although the bakery lost a summer, Shepard and Umphenour said the situation could have been much worse.The accident happened right at the beginning of the busy summer construction season.Most contractors have their calendars full for the whole summer, Shepard said. We were lucky to find someone - Toilsome Construction - who could go to work right away.The rebuilding was complicated by the fact that the structure houses three separate businesses - Blackbird, Something I Need to the east, and Churchmouse Yarns and Teas to the north, up Madrone Lane - and four different insurance companies.But everybody did a great job, Shepard said, including the insurance representatives. They argued among themselves about who should pay for what, but the work kept getting done.Something I Need, a home-furnishing store, will reopen the second week in October, proprietor Trudy Hatch said.Her problem was not the construction, which she said has been speedy. Rather, the merchandise she packed up after the blast was mixed up in storage. She has had to open and personally inspect hundreds of boxes to make sure that she displays and sells only untouched, undamaged merchandise.I'm real clear that we are not going to reopen as a second-hand store, she said.Churchmouse opened on Sept. 9. Blackbird was the result of years of pipe-dreaming by Umphenour and Shepard, both of whom had been bakers around the northwest for a number of years.Heidi and I would talk about if we ever had a bakery, how would we do it. We wanted it to be a place of community. They opened on Labor Day of 1999, and learned as they went along. The explosion provided them with something they hadn't had previously - time to reflect on how they were running their business.It isn't how we would have wanted to do it, Shepard said, but the involuntary time off has given us an opportunity to look at our systems.The changes they think will make the bakery run more smoothly involve internal procedures. To the customers, very little will change. There will be a slightly larger seating area, but most of the pre-explosion staff will return.The community they tried to nurture has rallied behind them.We had great support from our families, the people who work for us and our customers, Umphenour said. I can't stress enough what that means to us.This was a big thing to happen to a small business, but it's been softened by all the support. Nothing special is planned for Friday's reopening - just being able to do it is enough.We'll just open our doors. We're here. We're back. We'll see you Friday, Shepard said. "