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Owner of destroyed business vows to rise again

HAMILTON TOWNSHIP - Vic Hopper may not look it, but the 76-year-old is a phoenix, the sacred bird of Egyptian mythology that is consumed by fire then rises from the ashes. As he recovers from a devastating loss, Hopper is already planning his rebirth.

On a sunny Tuesday morning he surveyed, for the first time, the charred remains of what was once Vic's Bait and Tackle Shop after a fire swept though his Hanging Rock business Monday night.

As Hopper stepped cautiously through the debris, he could find only hints of what the shop had been just 48 hours ago: blackened signs, a freshly-stocked

soda refrigerator filled with cans exploded by heat, a box of melted 3 Musketeers bars.

"I don't have any insurance on this stuff, I lost everything in there," Hopper said, as he stood in the ash. "Everything I have, everything I own is in this building."

It's not the loss of the merchandise that seems to pain him the most, those can be replaced, it's those intangible things that made the shop as special as it was that truly hurt him.

Gone is Hopper's coffee machine, put on sale when he realized coffee making wasn't his strong suit; gone is his prized hat collection which adorned the ceiling. Gone are the dolls his granddaughters once played with. Hopper has lost, as he describes it, a whole lifetime.

The shop began simply enough 15 years ago, with Hopper and friend Paul Fyffe never being able to find the fishing supplies they needed.

"The Lord gave me this business in 1990," Hopper said. "I quit trucking and went to church, and I couldn't figure out how to make a living, and the Lord put me in this business."

Frequently as he talks he's distracted by the ruins of his business that surround him. Hopper points to a $2,000 motor that he had just received that is now just a clump of twisted, black metal.

Astoundingly, Hopper is able to find the silver lining, albeit a large one, amongst the wreckage. His home, which was attached to the shop had been spared, thanks to the efforts of the four fire crews fighting the blaze.

"You know, we're fortunate," Hopper said. "That fire just went to that wall, and they kept that wall watered and it didn't get our houseŠwell, you've got to look at the good side, if you look at the bad side, you're in trouble."

Despite the financial and emotional toll of the fire, Hopper is far from finished. Like the phoenix, he is already planning to rise from the ashes anew, even better than before.

"What I'm doing right now? I'm getting ready to build," Hopper said with a grim determination. "I'm going to try to get started again, if I can get the money somewhere.

It's the only thing I can do."

Hopper allowed himself only a few minutes to look over the remains of Vic's Bait and Tackle Shop. He began to make his way to him home to begin the process of getting his phone reactivated, and putting his business back together.

As Hopper reaches his door he calls out over his shoulder, almost as an afterthought:

"We're survivors, son. We'll make it."