Montana

Mar 5, 2013 10:44 PM by MTN News

Bozeman business owner looks back on 2009 downtown explosion

BOZEMAN - Four years ago, on a cold March morning, a gas explosion shook downtown Bozeman, claiming the life of one woman. While some of the scars remain, some say the area has come back better than before.

"The explosion went off, and we just hit the deck, grabbed our coats, ran out the door through flaming debris and smoke and had no idea what was happening," one person remembers.

On March 5, 2009, a gas leak exploded in downtown Bozeman, destroying several buildings and businesses.

Kathy Stark, co-owner of Starky's in Bozeman, was in her restaurant on Main Street, when it happened.

"(We) realized that the entire center portion of those buildings was completely gone," she recalls. "We knew that there were probably people in trouble."

Earliest indications pointed to as many as 11 people missing. However, it soon became clear that only one person had fallen victim. Tara Bowman was on the phone with a friend the moment the explosion happened.

"It was an overwhelming amount of debris that we had to clear out," Stark remembers.

While the loss of life could have been much greater, the loss of property made rebuilding difficult for several businesses. But Stark says the community kept her going.

"We were embraced upon opening our first day. We had a line out the door and around the block," she said or reopening her restaurant.

A mural stand where Starky's used to be. Officials say that while downtown took a hit, it has come swinging back.

"Downtown's been called the 'heart and soul of the community,' and that's never been a stronger sentiment than after those tragic events," Chris Naumann with the Downtown Bozeman Partnership said.

"People coalesced around downtown. We saw a tremendous amount of support. I think it gave a lot of business owners in this block more resolve to persevere," Naumann said.

Which they needed, considering the odds.

"Considering the explosion happened in really the depths of the recession, downtown's recovered remarkably well," Naumann said.

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