The morning of Nov. 8, Tamora Parr Lay was already at work at Collision Pros in Chico when news of the Camp Fire and the possibility of evacuations on the Ridge hit. Her husband was still at their home in Paradise and was able to grab only a few essentials before driving through the firestorm to safety.
“Right away, my bosses got together and sent us food, clothes and supplies,” Parr Lay said last week by phone. “They understood the urgency of the situation. I lost everything but the clothes on my back, and within a day or two, I had shoes and shirts and pants.
“I’m so grateful. I don’t even know how to thank them.”
Parr Lay wasn’t the only one in the Collision Pros family to be affected by the Camp Fire. Seven of her co-workers lost their homes as well, and the company itself lost its Paradise shop. Owner Brian Von Tress remembers the morning the blaze swept through Paradise well. His team there was forced to evacuate; it was days before any information got through as to the fate of the shop.
“We eventually found out we lost the business,” Von Tress told the CN&R. “We guaranteed everyone [from the Paradise shop] that we’d continue payroll as long as we could—we covered the first month—and ended up eventually employing everyone in the [other locations] since then.”
Von Tress opened the first Collision Pros in Auburn in 2013, though he’s “been doing this forever and ever and ever.” Since Auburn, he’s acquired shops in Chico, Paradise, Woodland and, most recently, Red Bluff.
“I worked for bigger corporations and didn’t like the direction they were going; I wanted to be closer to the customer,” Von Tress said. “My business plan is to come into smaller towns and offer some of the later technology, equipment, training and sophistication that the bigger corporations have.”
The closeness he hopes to foster with his customers translates into the workplace—his employees are more like family than means to an end. This was immediately apparent to Parr Lay after the fire. Right away, employees who’d lived on the Ridge were given $500 “to meet immediate needs,” Von Tress said. Co-workers stepped up and took over shifts so she could take care of paperwork; the company paid her salary no questions asked.
Von Tress launched a GoFundMe drive, which raised $37,000. Most of the donors, he said, were friends of his and vendors that do business with Collision Pros. That money was distributed to those affected, based on the level of loss.
“I didn’t have to worry about my paycheck or my job,” Parr Lay said. “They told me, ‘We’ve got your back.’ I’ve never had that at a job before. They really care about people here.”
Parr Lay had worked for Classic Auto Body in Paradise for a decade before Von Tress bought it two years ago. He kept her on—she’s a claims adjuster—in the Chico office.
As for business on the Ridge, Von Tress understands it might be slow for the foreseeable future—maybe in five years that shop will once again see the sales it saw pre-Camp Fire. Nevertheless, he is determined to maintain a presence there. He signed a lease on a new building on Pearson Road last week; he expects the shop will be up and running by May.
“I’ll probably have a hard time staffing it,” he said of the Paradise shop. “One guy left us to go to work for hazardous-waste cleanup. Another gal lost her child care …. I’m just going to have to figure that out for a while.
“We don’t mind losing a little bit,” he added, “because we want to be back in the community, to support the community.”