It took Valrico resident Theodus "TJ" Johnson 20 years to build his custom wood furniture business.
But it took a fire only hours to destroy it.
"It's pretty hard," said Johnson. "Now that I look back on it, it’s actually like losing a child – something I spent 20 years building."
The fire at TJ's Custom Wood Furniture, 5709 Hanna Ave., Tampa, broke out about 8:30 p.m. Sept. 26 inside the 6,000-square-foot warehouse. The flames spread quickly, engulfing the roof by the time firefighters arrived.
It took Hillsborough County Fire Rescue 18 units and 60 firefighters nearly two hours to bring the fire under control.
Fire officials have not determined the cause but said the fire is not suspicious.
When the smoke cleared, there was nothing left of the family business.
Business records, tooks, power equipment, furniture and the family's source of income was gone.
"It basically destroyed everything," said Johnson. "And I didn't have any insurance. It took everything I had just to keep the doors open."
Now friends and customers have launched a fundraising drive to help the family rebuild the business.
"At first I wasn't sure what I wanted to do," said Johnson. "But I realized that I do want to get back in busines. I love what I do."
Johnson began the business in his Valrico home.
"I started selling crafts, and then one day I fooled around and made some bookcases," said Johnson. "The people in Bloomingdale went crazy over them."
So Johnson opened a modest business on Lithia-Pinecrest Road near Bloomingdale Avenue in 1992. His custom-made bookcases, entertainment centers and office furniture soon was in demand.
"I guess I found a niche," said Johnson. "People wanted furniture that would fit a specific spot in their homes, and I was able to build what they wanted."
Within a few years, Johnson outgrew the small space on Lithia-Pinecrest and relocated to State Road 60.
"I stayed there a few more years and then had an opportunity to move into the Tampa warehouse so I could serve customers from all over the area," said Johnson.
Johnson's daughter and son also worked at the furniture store. Now the entire family is unemployed.
"This was a business I had hoped to leave to my children," said Johnson. "I can't believe it's gone."
A website has been set up to collect donations for the family.