By Nicholas Grube
Triplicate staff writer
Taz Marie, an 8-year-old blue and gold macaw, is recognizable to many people in the community.
She would greet customers of Parkway Feed with her extensive vocabulary of "Hello, skipper!" and "Pretty bird," occasionally throwing in the self-serving, "Peanut?" or the self-deprecating, "Dirty bird."
Sometimes, if someone got too close to her while wearing a baseball cap or sunglasses, she would snatch the items off their head to play with, and possibly destroy, them with her sharp, black beak.
"Taz is just special," said Parkway Feed Co-Owner Dewey Crager with a smile, especially to him. "There's a lot of wealthy people in Del Norte County, but they don't have enough money to buy her."
A large reason for his affection is that Taz is the sole survivor of a fire that started six months ago today that consumed Parkway Feed and everything inside, including the animals. More than 1,000 animals perished birds, fish, turtles, rabbits and rodents gone.
But Dewey managed to save Taz Marie by kicking down the back down of his burning business and pulling his friend from the scalding flames.
"I knew exactly where she was," Dewey said, referring to the layout of the feed store. When he found her, Dewey said he wrapped her in his mist-soaked T-shirt and carried her to his truck. "She came out first and they (police and firefighters) wouldn't let me go back in to get the other ones."
As of today, the cause of the blaze which started between 2 and 2:30 a.m. Jan. 7 is unknown, even after state fire investigators and Crescent City Fire Chief Steve Wakefield inspected the wreckage.
"As far as I know the cause was undetermined," Wakefield said. "We determined where it started, but how it started we don't know."
The fire began in the hay storage area of the store and moved westward toward Parkway Drive, destroying everything except a couple of farming artifacts that hung on the wall and the original cedar business sign.
"Sometimes you can determine what actually caused the fire," Wakefield said, "but often times not."
Now Taz Marie is at home with Dewey and his wife Diana O'Dell, who is also co-owner of Parkway Feed, and they say the blue and gold bird misses the attention the store provided.
"It took her awhile to adjust," Diana said. "I'm sure she has withdrawal syndromes from the admiration."
She said everybody likes Taz Marie, even when she would pull the buttons off the top of their baseball caps or drop their sunglasses on the floor. But Diana said she has problems with Taz when she's in her home. Taz has a tendency to screech early in the morning and beg for attention throughout the day.
"I like Taz Marie, I just don't like her in my home," Diana said. "She does really well in the store. It will be nice to move her back down to the store."
But now there's no room for Taz Marie at Parkway Feed, or much else for that matter, Diana said. Since the fire, Parkway Feed has operated out of an office trailer that was lent to them by Frank's Heating and Refrigeration.
"It gets a little crowded in here," Diana said, saying that she and three other women need to share the three desks that fit in the trailer. "We just have to keep a positive attitude and keep going."
And to keep going is what Dewey and Diana do well. Mere days after the fire destroyed their building, it was back to business for the couple though today things operate a little differently at the feed store.
"It's better than what we thought it would be," Diana said. "There's a lot of loyal customers ... but still a lot of people don't know we're here."
Business is about two-thirds of what it was before the fire, she said, partially because they cannot offer as large a variety as they did in the past.
Currently, Parkway Feed operates out of six 40-foot long cargo containers separated by product classification. Dog and cat supplies are in one container, while rodents, rabbits and birds are in another.
"We had to come up with some bright idea somewhere," Diana said. Unfortunately, she said about the set up, there's no cross-shopping. "You can't see through the walls from one container to another one."
But that will be only a temporary problem, she said. Diana and Dewey plan to build a new store, just like the old one, with some extra features. In fact, the new Parkway Feed will be built on the same foundation as the previous building.
"We're hoping to get a building permit soon," Diana said. "We've got the lumber and the plywood already ... We're going to go as fast as we can."
Dewey said he hopes to have a building up by winter, in order to protect his product mainly the hay from the rain. He said the new building will be larger than the old one and will include a drive-thru so customers can load their vehicles without having to back up.
"It'll come along," he said of the rebuilding process, but that so far business is good. "Actually and truly, the business is great and the people have been great."
And it's the customers and other people in the community that Dewey and Diana say helped to revitalize Parkway Feed during the past six months.
Jim Butcher, who has lived in Del Norte County his entire life and raises chickens, ducks and goats in the Crescent City area, said Parkway Feed is an establishment in his personal life.
"It's one of the few local businesses that I dedicate myself to," Butcher said. "I was afraid they were going to go out of business (after the fire), but I'm glad they didn't ... It's a big deal here. They've been here forever, and so have I."
But Dewey said coming back wasn't easy. After the fire the added stress made him and Diana discuss how, though they loved the business, it would be easy to quit.
"We wouldn't do it if it wasn't for the people," Dewey said. "We've been here for so long that it's like it's a part of life."
And customers might not need to wait too long before everything at Parkway Feed is back normal, especially if the new building is up by winter.
"Taz Marie will be back," Diana said, "once the new building is built."