Sifton Market on way back after January fire

Neighbors remember friendly staff, including woman who was killed on night of blaze

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For more than nine months, Sifton Market has remained boarded up and fenced off.

Knowing how vibrant the convenience store used to be, the sight has been a sore spot for owner Tom Ranck.

But every time he even begins to feel sorry for himself, Ranck thinks of Amy Hooser, the store manager whose body was found amid the rubble of the three-alarm fire that destroyed Sifton Plaza in January.

“My loss pales compared to her family and her girls,” Ranck said. “Buildings and businesses, no matter how much of a loss there is, can always be replaced. A human life never can.”

In the early morning hours of Jan. 15, Hooser was opening the store, located at 13412 N.E. Fourth Plain Blvd., when frequent customer Mitchell Heng came in, according to court records.

Heng allegedly robbed Hooser, taking $80 and a carton of cigarettes before starting the fire and fleeing, according to court documents filed in the case.

He refused to tell investigators how Hooser, a 47-year-old mother to three girls, was killed, court documents state. An autopsy showed she died of blunt force trauma and smoke inhalation.

Heng was charged with first-degree murder, first-degree robbery and first-degree arson in the case. He is scheduled to go to trial in April.

The retail plaza, which also housed a barber shop, a pet supply store and a pet grooming business, was heavily damaged.

Earlier this year, Best Friends Dog Grooming reopened in the Orchards Market retail center. The owners of the pet supply store moved away from the area to tend to a sick relative, Ranck said. He didn’t know the status of the barber shop.

For Ranck, the store was a labor of love.

He and his wife, Melanie, worked for Safeway –Tom for 20 years and Melanie for 15 –before they bought Sifton Stop N Shop in 1986. The two were excited to have a business of their own and something to pass down to their children. In 1998, they bought the building too.

But when Melanie got sick in 2008, the couple sold the store, and it became the Oasis Market. Melanie died a few years later, and once Tom was back on his feet, he bought back the business in July 2016 and renamed it Sifton Market.

While he enjoyed being his own boss, Tom Ranck also grew to enjoy the community the store created.

“It was like a big family,” Ranck said. “I’ve watched generations grow up and pass away. I’ve had employees with me from the time that we bought the store until time they retired.”

And it wasn’t just the employees who felt welcomed.

“It was a very rewarding business in many, many ways,” Ranck said. “The store was a neighborhood greeting place.”

Christie BrownSilva, the Sifton Neighborhood Association president, said that since the fire, she’s heard stories from neighbors about their memories at the store.

“I was hearing all kinds of comments from the community on how it was a staple in the neighborhood,” BrownSilva said.

She heard from kids who liked to come in after school and adults who stopped by for their daily cup of coffee, BrownSilva said. They all said that the staff was always friendly.

“A lot of local businesses like that, they affect the entire neighborhood,” she said.

Since the fire, Ranck has worked through insurance claims and county permitting to get construction underway and the store back open.

He plans to reopen the store with a fresh new look this winter.

“It’s very important to me to make it appear like a fresh start; it shouldn’t be dwelled on,” he said.

He will, however, commemorate Hooser in the landscaping, though the specifics are still in the works.

The news is something that many in the Sifton area will be glad to hear, BrownSilva said.

“When it burned down, it really left a hole in the neighborhood,” she said. “A lot of people will be happy to see that back up and running.”