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After a fire guts Hawick's lumber company, the owners work jointly to ensure their business remains open

HAWICK -- Hawick isn't used to so much attention.

Drivers on state Highway 23 aren't required to slow down when they pass by the edge of Hawick. Rather, they buzz by.

And the town's only claim to any fame seems to be a weathered sign posted north of town by the Kandiyohi County Historical Society that says "a battle between Dakota and Ojibway hunters" took place near the town in 1860.

What this tiny unincorporated smattering of houses, trees and cars resting in the northeast corner of Kandiyohi County is used to is loss.

Residents saw Gil's Store close in 1999.

Without Gil's, Hawick residents no longer had access to groceries and a post office without driving to nearby Paynesville or New London.

"We used to be able to go down to Gil's and pick up an ice cream sandwich during our break," said Larry Everson. Everson is the third-generation owner of Hawick Blacksmith and Welding Shop, one of the two remaining businesses on what would be the town's main street, if they had street signs.

In the middle of the town, however, rises its commercial and civic bright spot. The Monson Lumber Company, the other business on the main thoroughfare, has been in Hawick since 1966.

"They pretty much hold us together," said Reed Quarfot, former owner of Gil's who still lives in Hawick.

Imagining Hawick without the lumber company is a grim vision for residents. When a fire early Saturday morning gutted the inside of the company's office building, its symbolic home, townspeople began to think the unthinkable.

The lumber company puts up Christmas lights during the winter, plows snow for elderly residents and holds the town's only pop machine and newspaper vending machines.

"If it closed, it would be extremely detrimental to the town," Quarfot said.

Residents can breathe easy. Hawick is not losing the Monson Lumber Company -- not even for a day. Monday morning a sign outside the shell of a building read, "Yes, we are open for business."

Aside from the a few state fire marshal vehicles parked near the lumber company and yellow caution tape belted around the building, Monday morning in Hawick was typically quiet, residents said.

Some in Hawick were shocked that someone would target a business in their community for crime.

"I don't know why someone would do that here," said Everson, while he and his son took a break from working on the broken pipe of a hayrack.

"Whoever did it has no respect," said his son Matthew, who will be a ninth-grader at Paynesville Area High School.

Elmer Gilbertson moved to Hawick from Minneapolis in 1989 to get away from the crime and danger outside his doorway in the city. Saturday morning, Gilbertson awoke and heard the noise across the street. He walked out of his home and saw "huge, black smoke" pouring out of the building.

"It was horrible," he said.

As he was walking toward the blaze, a cat scampered past him going away from the lumber building. Later in the day, he found the cat hiding out in his garage. The front left paw and most of the cat's tail had been burned off in the blaze.

Gilbertson bandaged the cat's wounded leg and has been caring for the cat in his garage.

"I can't get away from the cat," he said, laughing. "I'll be sitting in my chair and he'll come up and rest on my legs."

Solomon Pacheco was biking past the lumber company Monday morning. The Paynesville Area High School senior had been out of town over the weekend and said he was going to get a pop at the machine when he found out about the fire and that the pop machine was no longer there.

As a Hawick resident for seven years, however, he's gotten used to the disappearing act.

"I heard this used to be a good-sized town," Pacheco said. "It used to have enough stuff in it."