Rochester, MI

Cause of fire that destroyed downtown Rochester business still under investigation

Author Ed Anderson

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Moon River Soap Company's building was destroyed in a fireEdward Anderson

More than a month after a fire tore through Moon River Soap Company, destroying the building, there are still questions about what happened. Investigators swarmed the scene in the weeks that followed the devastating fire. Still, there were precious few clues to help determine what happened to the beloved business. 

Neighbors say that there has been a tremendous drop in foot traffic in the area, which has a massive impact on nearby businesses. One lady, Katelyn Tate, said she noticed that despite more people coming to the site in the immediate aftermath of the fire, that only lasted for a couple of hours. 

To illustrate her point, there were only a few cars in the parking lot next to the burned-down building. The few people who walked around the area were not looking to support a business on the street; instead, they wanted to get to the downtown area. 

Jason Mack was looking at office space on East Rochester Road but is having second thoughts. "I thought about bringing my company out this way but I depend on foot traffic and there doesn't seem to be any around here." 

 Despite the doom and gloom, there are bright spots. Many believe that the owner of Moon River plans to rebuild and reopen as quickly as possible. Though on the Moon River Soap Facebook page, he is cautioning patrons that everything will take some time. And nobody is sure what the business model will look like moving forward isn't known. 

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Moon River Soaps are proudly made in Rochester, MichiganEdward Anderson

What Happened

Another unknown in the situation is what caused the blaze. Investigators are looking into what happened in the early hours of May 11, 2022. It is believed to have been a horrible sequence of events that occurred when no one was in the store. Multiple sources report that the owner and his family used to live on the upper floors of the building; however, at the time of the fire, that was no longer the case. 

The Oakland Press reports that they were told by multiple people heard a transformer blow, which is what many think caused the fire. Neighbors said there was a big boom before the first flicks of the flames began to take down the beloved business. 

As far back as 2017, the city of Rochester was aware that citizens had issues with ordinance enforcement and the utility companies. Officials conducted a survey and found that there was growing concern about how things were being handled. 

Karen Johnson, a longtime Rochester resident, said that the transformer had been a concern for those in the area since 2020. She claims to have been assured several times that it was up to code. However, there were a few times when it appeared that was not the case. "We've told DTE and the city (Rochester) but they all said not to worry." 

The City of Rochester did not comment for this story. 

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The building for Moon River Soap Company is boarded up after the devastating fireEdward Anderson

Next Steps 

There are sections of the Moon River Soap Company building that are completely open because of the fire. As the structure sits on the corner of Fourth and East Rochester, people passing by it can see how badly damaged it is. A section facing Fourth and Main is entirely gone. 

It is a shocking sight for many. As is the boards that guard the store's front doors. Karen said, "I hope this doesn't stay that way. It's a tragedy but we also don't want burned down buildings becoming hazardous for the children in the area." 

On the Moon River Soap Company Facebook page, the owner did advise fans that there was no product to sell. There was some hedging about when the business would reopen but confirmation that they are working to see how things will look in the future. The person who posted said calls were taking place and decisions were being made, though no official plans were in place as of the post on June 16, 2022. 

While the investigation is still ongoing, plans are being made for the future of the Moon River Soap Company after the horrific fire that temporarily closed it. 

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Ed Anderson is a true crime and gossip writer from Detroit, Michigan. Ed is the author of several true crime books, most recently Cold Cases From Around The World.

Rochester, MI
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