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Murrells Inlet: Community pulls together as Dead Dog Saloon prepares to rebuild

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

A week ago Charlie Campbell stared in horror at the blackened beams and smoldering embers where the Dead Dog Saloon once stood.

The Murrells Inlet restaurant, which Campbell owns, burned in the early morning hours of Feb. 22. No one was hurt, but dozens were left unemployed.

It was devastating, but devastation has turned to determination and Campbell is now focused on the future.

“We’ve kind of moved beyond the mourning stage and we’re on the fast track for rebuilding. That’s a lot more fun than watching it come down,” Campbell said.

He refers to the burn site as the phoenix. “It’s not the Dead Dog anymore,” he said. But it will be again soon.

Campbell hired A&I Fire and Water Restoration to handle the construction and they’re about halfway through the debris removal. He expected to have blueprints for the new building to the Georgetown County Planning Department before it closes today.

“They’re wanting to go fast and we’re going to expedite what we can on our end,” said Boyd Johnson, the county planning director.

Once the permitting is taken care of and the green light is given for construction, officials with A&I hope to have the restaurant ready to open within 90 days, according to Campbell.

While that would be nice, he said he isn’t committing to such a tight deadline.

“I cautioned them all that this is an opportunity to do it right and I don’t want to be held captive to a certain opening date and regret rushing through decisions later,” Campbell said.

He wants to open an improved Dead Dog, correcting traffic flow problems inside the restaurant and expanding the view from the deck with a pitched roof.

But he wants to do it without sacrificing the character of the place. He wants people to come back and have no doubt they’re at the Dead Dog.

That might take more than 90 days, Campbell said, but the restaurant will definitely be open in time to host its annual 9/11 benefit.

Since the day of the fire, Campbell has been overwhelmed by the support he and his staff have received from the community and longtime fans of the Dead Dog.

As the sun came up over the smoking remains of the restaurant on the morning of the fire, neighboring businesses pledged to try to find room within their own ranks for Dead Dog employees.

Seven or eight have already been placed in restaurants on the Marsh Walk. Another few were hired by A&I for the rebuilding. Still more will be hired for the summer.

A fundraiser to benefit those left unemployed by the fire is in the works for March 25. The benefit will start with a golf tournament at Island Green. Slots are already full, Campbell said.

Following that, at noon, will be a party at On the Half Shell featuring live music, a silent auction and chance drawings. Tickets will be sold for hamburgers, hotdogs and barbecue.

“A lot of the stuff is still to be determined,” said organizer Mickey Calderiso. But all of the proceeds will go to help Dead Dog employees and their families.

David Owens, owner of Creekratz and Dave’s Dockside called his staff in to make breakfast for those gathered on the lawn at Dead Dog on the morning of the fire. He fed them all lunch, too, and wouldn’t let anyone pay for anything, Campbell recalled.

Sue Sledz, executive director of Murrells Inlet 2020, said she has fielded numerous inquiries from inlet residents and business owners asking about ways to help out after the fire.

“I think something really powerful is happening here,” she said. “Everybody is coming to the aid of their own competitor. Murrells Inlet gets its fair share of press when we’re arguing with each other over setbacks or trees, but there truly is a sense of community here when one of our own goes down. It makes you proud.”

Karen Vereen of Russell’s Seafood Grill and Raw Bar didn’t hesitate to look for a way to help.

“That’s just what we do here,” she said.

Online, people who have been customers of the Dead Dog for years have sent good wishes from across the nation, and posted memories and photos of good times at the restaurant.

The saloon was named as a tribute to man’s best friend and to honor dogs who have passed on. It housed a Hall of Fame featuring photos people brought in of their own beloved dead dogs. Those photos were all destroyed in the fire, but folks have already started sending in more dog photos for when the restaurant reopens.

The outpouring of support has been humbling, Campbell said. He hadn’t realized until then just how beloved the Dead Dog was.

“It’s kept all of our spirits lifted,” he said. “It really shows you what kind of a community Murrells Inlet is. It’s a really special place. I get goose bumps talking about it.

“There’s a special feeling here for our place, and I’ll never take that for granted.”

Plans are to recreate the deck at the Dead Dog, but it looks like a live oak tree near the deck might have to be removed. The trunk was damaged in the fire and an arborist said the tree is unlikely to survive. If that’s the case, Campbell wants to plant another in its place and use the wood from the existing tree for some kind of memorial.

Firefighters haven’t determined the cause of the fire, but said it started near the tree, possibly from a smoldering cigarette butt, and likely spread from the tree to the roof of the building.

To get daily progress reports as the Dead Dog is rebuilt, go to deaddogsaloon.com. Updates will continue until the grand reopening. Fans can also send and see customer photos through Dudley Deaddog on Facebook.

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