Eugene Duncan was climbing into his truck to go to work Tuesday morning when his phone rang. He and his wife, Kathy “Dink” Duncan, had taken the holiday weekend off to spend time with their family, but they were ready to open up their produce shop and greet their loyal customers on Tuesday.
The call came from the Rock Hill Fire Department, with news that there was no store to open.
“There was fire blazing all over the place,” Duncan said.
Shortly before 7 a.m., someone at the Burger King restaurant just in front of Dink’s, which sits at the intersection of Heckle Boulevard and Saluda Street, spotted the smoke and flames and called 911, Deputy Fire Chief Mark Simmons said.
Fire crews were still working on the building late in the morning, checking for hot spots and tearing away roof sections damaged by the fire. Four engine companies, two ladders and about 25 firefighters responded, said Battalion Chief Rusty Myers. The cause of the fire is under investigation.
“It’s totally destroyed,” Duncan said of the store, which has been open for about eight years.
Dink’s didn’t have a sprinkler system, Duncan said, just an alarm. The Duncans own the store, but John T. Mitchell owns the building, said Duncan and Mitchell’s brother and sister, Eddie Mitchell and Brenda Roof, who were standing outside with the Duncans Tuesday morning.
The building dates back to the late 1970s, they said. It had been expanded in the early 1980s. A Winn-Dixie grocery store once anchored the shopping center, which is now home to Dink’s, Eddie’s Auto Sales and a resale store that benefits a hospice provider.
Only Dink’s and Eddie’s, owned by Eddie Mitchell, were damaged in the fire.
Tuesday’s fire was the second unfortunate incident to happen at the produce market in the last few months.
In June, a masked robber jumped behind a counter at the store and took a cash box containing about $700 from the register. Police later arrested Steven Tyler Bigham, 18, and charged him with second-degree burglary and strong-arm robbery. He is being held at the York County Detention Center on a $50,000 bond.
After the robbery, the Duncans said that if the robber needed money for food or help, all he had to do was ask.
The Duncans never let someone leave their store without food if they needed it, Roof said.
Self-described loyal customer Bee Madden was driving by Dink’s on Tuesday when she saw the firetrucks. She stopped to make sure everyone was all right.
“I was going to stop in later to buy some food to take to donate at my church,” she said. “I’m here a couple times a week.”
The produce is fresh and inexpensive, both Madden and Roof said, but that’s not why people come back to Dink’s time and time again.
“They really good, tenderhearted people,” Roof said of the Duncans. “They’re the hardest-working people I’ve ever seen.”
Dink’s will open again as soon as possible, Duncan told Madden on Tuesday.
“My wife said she’d set up in the middle of the parking lot if we have to,” he said.
While it appears the Duncans lost everything in Dink’s – from the freezers to the registers and every bit of food in between – and the road to recovery will not be quick or easy, Duncan said judging the severity of the fire is all a matter of perspective.
The family is currently facing an even bigger challenge, one that makes the fire seem minor.
“Our granddaughter has cancer,” Duncan said, “and right now, she’s all we really care about.”
About a year ago, 5-year-old Sara Duncan was diagnosed with stage-four neuroblastoma, a cancer that has caused tumors to grow in her chest and abdomen. Sara has traveled to hospitals across the region from her family’s home in Blythewood.
Her treatment plan includes chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, stem-cell therapy and antibody therapy to try to get rid of the tumors and train her body to fight them, instead of allowing them to grow.
Just last week, Sara underwent a surgery to remove the second of the two large tumors growing inside her chest and abdomen, her mother wrote on a Facebook page called “Roar Sara Roar,” which chronicles the girl’s battle against cancer.
Tests and scans now show that Sara is “NED,” showing no evidence of disease anywhere in her body, Michelle Duncan wrote.
“She is doing so great,” Eugene Duncan said Tuesday, beaming. “Her and all our family being healthy, that’s all we can ever ask for.
“You just deal with life as best you can, and put it in the Lord’s hands.”