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South Bend council member's thrift store burned down; police say fire is suspicious

South Bend firefighters work to put out a blaze at Kingdom's Closet clothing store on Elwood and Huey on Jan. 28, 2024.
Photo provided, South Bend Fire Department
South Bend firefighters work to put out a blaze at Kingdom's Closet clothing store on Elwood and Huey on Jan. 28, 2024.

South Bend police and fire department personnel are investigating a fire which burned a thrift store run by a pastor on the city council on Sunday.

The fire was reported around 11:15 p.m. on Sunday at the Kingdom's Closet thrift store on the corner of Elwood Avenue and Huey Street. The store is owned by Canneth Lee, who represents the city's 1st District on the South Bend Common Council.

Lee first bought the building on the corner of Elwood and Huey on the northwest side of South Bend in 2005 as an extension of the Kingdom Christian church where he’s a pastor. It started as a day care and then shifted into a community center.

Shortly before the pandemic Canneth Lee and his wife — Charisse Lee — converted it into the Kingdom’s Closet thrift store as a way to prevent children from being bullied because of their clothing.

"No one wants to go get clothes from a clothing pantry because of the stigmatism, but she made it look like Macy's in the inner city," Canneth Lee said. Men could buy suits for job interviews at far discounted prices, while girls could find prom dresses. Lee said that when the Walmart on the north side of South Bend closed, the national chain donated close to $10,000 worth of clothing, which Kingdom Closet helped donate for free.

Charisse Lee helped manage the store with the help of a few volunteers.

But now the Lees will have to rebuild the community fixture after the building was badly damaged in a fire on Sunday night in what officials believe may be a case of arson.

South Bend detectives are investigating the fire as suspicious, a department spokeswoman said. And scanner traffic says neighbors reported seeing a man near the store’s windows around the time of the fire.

"We just want to find the person responsible and bring them to justice," said Lee.

No one was in the store at the time of the fire, but almost all of the clothing is ruined due to the fire.

Marek Mazurek has been with WVPE since April 2023, though he's been in Michiana for most of his life. He has a particular interest in public safety reporting. When he's not on the radio, Marek enjoys getting way too into Notre Dame football and reading about medieval English history.