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Rattlesnake Slim's owner struggles to overcome fire’s damage

Arsonist destroys products for sale

Posted: August 6, 2008 8:16 p.m.
Updated: October 8, 2008 5:04 a.m.

Gordon Mehtenian, owner of Rattlesnake Slim's, looks at his smoked damaged store on Wednesday afternoon after part of his store caught fire July 22. Mehtenian believes this fire was not an accident, since many local stores around the area had been vandalized before.

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Just a month ago, Rattlesnake Slim's was packed nightly with coffee-loving customers sipping on drinks and listening to the latest jam sessions from western musicians.

Not even a year old, the down-to-earth coffee, tea and tack shop in Newhall was earning a reputation as a place to not only connect with others, but to find unique western memorabilia from icons like Nudie.

But on July 22, Gordon Mehterian, who owns Rattlesnake Slim's with wife Gina, came into his store at around 6:45 a.m. to find his main door pried open, a gaping hole in the wall of his storage area and water pouring into the store from a broken pipe.

He would soon find out that his store had caught fire around 12:30 a.m., forcing firefighters to open the door to get in.

After an investigation, the incident was deemed an arson, he said. Mehterian suspects the fire began with cardboard boxes and trash he left outside the night before. However, he doesn't believe his location was burned on purpose.

"I don't believe I was targeted," he said Wednesday.

While the blaze was contained to a wall outside that borders the store's storage area, the rest of the business received smoke and water damage, ruining the mix of horse supplies, clothing and other items that were sold at Rattlesnake Slim's.

He estimates that the damage exceeds $100,000.

On Wednesday, most of the western artifacts the store is known for sat in boxes, waiting to be handled by Mehterian's insurance company, State Farm, which he said has been extremely helpful throughout the process.

Rattlesnake Slim's has been closed since the fire to allow Mehterian to sift through his items and figure out what to do next. As he walked into the disorganized store, Mehterian pointed out different areas, ranging from the display case that once showed off eye-catching belt buckles, to the art of Western stars like John Wayne that hangs on the wall.

The experience has left him visibly upset.

"How many do as much stuff for the community as much as I do?" referring to the benefits and fundraisers he's hosted in the past months. "Why this place?"

Mehterian maintains that he wants to stay in the same location, rebuild and move forward.

"I love this place," he said. "It's magic in here. This place is amazing."

To restore the building, Mehterian said he has to submit engineering and architecture plans for the damaged walls. Upon city approval, he can move forward with the rebuilding.

In the meantime, Mehterian has to tackle the store's biggest problem: the lingering smell of smoke that damaged his products.

Regardless of the current situation, Mehterian still has plans for Rattlesnake Slim's, including possibly getting a beer and wine license and hosting events with food. But he knows he can't do it alone and turns to the people that made Rattlesnake Slim's in the first place.

"I need the support of the community," he said.


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