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Out of the ashes

by Nick Rotunno
| December 7, 2010 8:00 PM

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A tool box that was recovered from the charred interior of Motion Sports' previous shop now sits in the newly leased space.

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Nine-year-old Celina McAlister scrubs a smoke-damaged motorcycle helmet on Saturday at the new Motion Sports building. The Coeur d'Alene motorcycle shop, formerly on Government Way, burned down Nov. 20 but has relovated to 174 E. Neider.

There was never a doubt in Mike McAlister's mind.

Long before the fire was extinguished, while the flames still raged in the cold November night, he knew, with absolute certainty, that he would rebuild Motion Sports. The motorcycle shop on Government Way had been in business for two decades, and it would remain in business, fire or not.

A new building, financing, merchandise - all that would come later. The important thing, McAlister thought, was to move forward. Never once did he consider giving up, or trying something new.

Quitting is not in his character.

"No question. It's what our family does, and has done for many years," said the 68-year-old McAlister, of Post Falls. "It's not a job. It's our way of life."

In 1988, McAlister opened the original Motion Sports at Sunset Mall. He soon moved the business to Government Way, where for many years he served local dirtbike, snowmobile and racing enthusiasts, building a reputation for quality equipment and friendly customer service.

The blaze occurred on Nov. 20, a large structure fire that started at Performance R/C Hobbies, right next door to Motion Sports. When he heard the business was threatened, McAlister left the house so fast he didn't stop to put on his shoes. His wife brought them to the scene later that night.

Firefighters made a valiant stand, but the fire was strong, and they couldn't stop the flames from reaching Motion Sports.

"And then we got to stand there and watch 20-some odd years of my life get burned up," McAlister recalled.

He didn't break down, or curse his misfortune. Instead, almost instantly, he made plans for a fresh start.

A friend told McAlister about a space at 174 E. Neider - bigger than the Government Way location (by 1,000 square feet), with better parking out front.

He was sold, and in a matter of days Motion Sports had a new location.

"It's kind of like stepping out of the fire into a silver lining," McAlister said. "Now we've got a new facility, and we'll try to carry more product. It's just gonna take a little bit of time to build it all back up. We'd like to be up and running by Dec. 15, if at all possible."

The new Motion Sports will carry all the gear an off-road motorcyclist or snowmobiler needs. It'll have forks, seats, helmets, goggles, apparel and everything else. The RG3 Suspension Center, run by McAlister's son, Chaun, will also be opening at the new shop.

"It's bad what happened," said Chaun, 42, "but I don't want to dwell on it. Our attitude is, we not only start with a new building, but everything we have is new. There's going to be new stuff to see and buy."

Dozens of friends and volunteers showed up last weekend to help with construction work at the Neider storefront. They unloaded damaged gear from the old shop and worked on numerous projects, including wiring, carpentry and wall demolition.

"I talked to Mike, and let him know I was willing to help," said David Phillips of Coeur d'Alene, a dirtbike rider and Motion Sports patron who lent a hand on Saturday. He liked the looks of the new location, and the services Motion Sports would continue to provide.

"I think it's definitely a big step up," he said of the shop.

In some ways, the McAlisters explained, they had been lucky. Motion Sports sustained a 95 percent loss, but the fire somehow spared 30 gallons of racing fuel and 14,000 pounds of nitrogen. Acetylene and oxygen stored inside the shop also didn't blow. Numerous helmets, tires and other gear were plucked from the wreckage.

The gear will be sold at an upcoming fire sale, the McAlisters said.

"(That equipment) is definitely not gonna be new," Mike said, "but most of it is smoke damage."

Stephanie McAlister, Chaun's wife, was scrubbing salvaged helmets on Saturday. She was on-scene soon after the fire started, and vividly remembers that night.

"I think the hardest part for me was ... I thought of my husband. Twenty years of blood, sweat and tears that we were losing," Stephanie said.

Chaun was out of town on Nov. 20, but Stephanie reached him by phone. He reassured her, telling her that it would be OK, that everything they had lost was material and could be replaced. She heard the strength in his voice, the conviction, and right away she felt better.

"The first thing he told me when I talked to him on the phone was, 'It's just stuff,'" Stephanie recalled. "That helped me to keep the perspective. I couldn't be prouder of my husband than I am now. It puts perspective on everything in your life."

The experience has brought the family together, she explained. Mike, Chaun and Stephanie have carried on, rebuilding the business in a new spot, getting back on their feet in less than a month. For the younger McAlisters, the children of the family, it's been a lesson in perseverance, a study in dedication.

"You're a better person on the other side," Stephanie said. "Stronger. You're feeling wiser for it, and better for it. I'm just trying to teach the kids, and guide our kids through this. It's kind of like, failure is not an option at this point."

She was especially grateful for the outpouring of support. Hundreds of people offered to help any way they could.

"It's almost overwhelming, in a good way," Stephanie said. "We couldn't be doing it without friends, and family."

There's still a lot of work to be done, but Mike and Chaun can't wait for the shop to be finished. If anything, Mike wants to open sooner than Dec. 15, to catch more holiday shoppers.

They plan to host a grand opening celebration sometime next summer, Chaun said, but they'll be helping customers long before then. As Chaun said, motorcycles run through their veins.

"It's a neat thing for a father and son to be able to do this, and get along," Mike said. "When we leave Friday night, and we're off for the weekend, we're basically waiting for Monday to get here so we can go back to work."

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