After fire, Free Bird owner plans to rise from ashes
Muskego business destroyed in Jan. 29 blaze

By Patricia Nakamura - Special to The Freeman

Feb. 5, 2015


 Firefighters work to extinguish the fire on Pioneer Drive on Jan. 26. 
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

MUSKEGO - Christy Schwacker’s family saw the fire that destroyed Free Bird Clothing and Home Trends as a sign she should move back to Seattle, but the former professional photographer isn’t ready to give up on her business.

“I always wanted a boutique,” she said, praising the Muskego community for their support since the Jan. 26 fire that destroyed the building Free Bird occupied at W180-S7695 Pioneer Drive for just over a year.

“Everything I had went into the store - it was a risk.”

In two weeks, Schwacker will attend a buying show in Las Vegas and plans to get whatever catches her eye for spring and summer. The plan is to have stock delivered to her home until she has a commercial space.

Nearly everything was destroyed in the fire, but one of Schwacker’s employees was able to save the store computer.

“Paul, the tenant, was in the basement, and smelled smoke,” Schwacker said.

He was alerted by a phone call, and ran upstairs in time to rescue his dog and bird. That involved coming up the south stairway to the outside and re-entering the building by the north stairway to the second floor.

Mandy Kampa, Free Bird sales assistant, called 911, then called Schwacker.

“She said, ‘What should I grab?’” Schwacker said. “‘Anything you can!’” 

Luckily, Kampa was able to take the computer holding the store’s records.

“The Fire Department got there immediately - they’re just around the corner on Janesville Road,” Schwacker said.

 Tess Corners Fire Chief Carl Wojnowski said the fire started in the void between the first and second floors.

“It took awhile to find the fire,” he said, adding that firefighters who reached the second floor front room saw no flames. “They started ventilation and then the fire burned through the floor.”

Firefighters work to extinguish the fire on Pioneer Drive on Jan. 26. 
Charles Auer/Freeman Staff

In the Free Bird space, a large beam collapsed across the sales counter.

Because of the difficulty in locating the fire and the proximity of other buildings, several additional units were called in, the chief said. Departments from Franklin, Hales Corners, New Berlin, Big Bend, Town of Vernon and Wind Lake responded.

Wojnowski said he and the fire marshal returned the next day to try and determine the cause of the fire.

“Arson was ruled out. Most likely it was electrical, in the space between the floors,” he said.

 The building will probably have to be razed.

When 11-year-old Sophia Schwacker saw the place where she frequently spent Saturdays, she cried, her mother said.

“But then Sophia said, ‘Are we going to open a bigger store now?’” Christy added.

That may happen. Schwacker has been in contact with managers of possible spaces, as well as with Chamber of Commerce executive director Deborah Skurulsky.

“We have a possible location on Janesville Road. It’s not for sure yet; it would be almost twice as big,” Schwacker said.

“Free Bird was one year old in October. I can’t give up!”