Rising From the Rubble: Local Virginia Practice Rebounds From Office Fire

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Three days after the fire, The Eye Site announces
they have a new location via Facebook.
COLLINSVILLE, Va.—Sunday, Sept. 17 was a normal day for Julie Brown, OD, and her husband Frank Manuguerra who were at home when they got the phone call that changed the trajectory of their day and, potentially, their practice’s professional path. “We were just watching some Sunday afternoon football when my husband got a phone call from the emergency phone service we set up for our patients to call in case of emergency and when we are closed,” stated Dr. Brown. “They told my husband that either a patient or local resident saw smoke coming from The Eye Site and had already called the fire department.” The pair took the 20-minute drive to the Collinsville-based practice, to see emergency vehicles and people surrounding the building, with the roof ablaze.

The practice was inoperable, though the extent of the damage not fully known. With ongoing disasters such as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma pulling the optical community together, the recent fire at The Eye Site also reflects the positivity within the vision space and illustrates the compassion that exists among members of the optical world.

Dr. Brown founded The Eye Site along with her college friend, Shannon Zollinger, OD. The two doctors met each other at optometry school, both attending The Ohio State University College of Optometry, graduating in 2009. After each went into practice and continued their own education, life and circumstance brought them together in Virginia and the two friends decided to go into their own practice together.


Drs. Julie Brown (l) and Shannon Zollinger, pose with
Black Dog Architectural Salvage’s Mike Whiteside.
In 2015, Dr. Brown and Dr. Zollinger were featured on DIY/HGTV’s “Salvage Dawgs” as they were renovating their practice. As VM reported, the pair was inspired by their neighbors, Roanoke’s Black Dawg Salvage who were repurposing old furniture, architecture and building materials to create new, valuable pieces. The Eye Site wound up with dispensing tables made from reclaimed wood and Egyptian iron and used reclaimed barn wood and piping, culminating into a rustic/industrial chic way to display and dispense glasses to their patients.

Now, two years later, Dr. Brown and Dr. Zollinger are looking at the possibilities of having to rebuild again. While it is too early to tell the cause of the fire, the damage to the two-story building is quite visible. The roof of the building as well as the attic, which was used for storage, was completely destroyed and they are suspecting significant water damage to the bottom half. As of Sept. 20, the statuses of patient records, equipment, etc. were still unknown. “We are just so grateful that nobody was inside the building when the fire happened,” Dr. Brown told VMail Weekend. “It could have been much worse.”


Drs. Zollinger and Brown pose with Serendipity Coffee
House and Bistro’s L.m. Vanderwoods, who offered
The Eye Site complimentary lunch for the week.
Even though the incident came as a shock to Dr. Brown and her colleagues at The Eye Site, the local community in Collinsville sprung into action as news about the fire broke. On Sunday, friends showed up at the scene without the doctors having to call and neighbors of the practice provided water and chairs during the incident; another friend got in touch with a contractor who helped The Eye Site’s team with boarding up the windows and other friends went and purchased the boards and brought their own tools to help. “This has shown what a small town can do for one another,” said Dr. Brown. “I think this situation is highlighting people’s compassion, their love and their willingness to help.”

Local businesses have also lent helping hands to Dr. Brown and The Eye Site team. Thomas Unterbrink, OD, a long time practitioner in Collinsville—who now practices part-time—offered his practice to Dr. Brown and her colleagues and they will be operating out of his office on the days he is not there. Bassett Office Supply, a local office supplies store, also reached out to Dr. Brown offering chairs, paper and anything else they might need as they get their temporary location up and running. Serendipity Coffee House and Bistro, a local coffee shop also offered complimentary lunch to the doctors and team at The Eye Site for the whole week and the local post office offered to reroute the practice’s mail to their temporary location.

In addition, The Eye Site’s patients have also been understanding and have helped the team cope with the tragedy. “It has been so inspiring. Patients have been understanding, offering help and have said the most complimentary things and that has done so much for all of our morale,” stated Dr. Brown. “Just to see that all of the hard work we have poured into our business to serve our patients every day is really appreciated really warms my heart.”

Though the extent of the damage inside the practice is still unknown, Dr. Brown and her team are now focusing on giving their patients the best possible care at the temporary location. As of Sept. 20, patients can visit the doctors at Dr. Unterbrink’s practice, located at 2202 Daniels Creek Road. Calls to The Eye Site’s regular phone number (276) 647-3766 were being transferred to a staff member and the practice also secured a second, temporary phone number, (276) 734-7028 where patients can call and get the assistance they need.