WARREN - The death of their parents and several other relatives during the first half of this year was bad enough for Hazel and Rick Khlem of Niles.
They weren't about to let the business they've operated for the last 16 years die as well.
Six months after their business was destroyed by fire, the Khlems this week reopened Lifetime Muffler and Auto Repair in a new location on Warren's east side.
The reopening makes good on a pledge from their former partner, John Barlow, that the business would reopen bigger and better.
Barlow and his wife, Tanya, who had partnered with the Khlems for about 16 years until the fire, instead decided to retire. But the Khlems are picking up the pieces and moving on.
This week, Hazel sat behind the counter answering phones at their new location at 4375 Youngstown Road, while her husband, Rick, worked on the undercarriage of a Chevy truck on a lift in one of the building's two bays.
They closed on the $275,000 purchase of the property late last month, according to Trumbull County Auditor's records, and they say they already have begun seeing customers return to their shop after their opening on July 7, one day shy of the 16th anniversary of their original opening at their previous location.
That shop, located on West Market Street, was destroyed on a frigid January afternoon by fire that started in an auto bay, the Khlems explained, calling it a "freak accident."
The couple was not at work that day because Rick's father had died the previous day.
"My dad is what got me started in this business," Rick said.
Since then, the couple said they also lost Hazel's mother and three other more distant family members in the last six months.
The couple said they weren't necessarily focused on moving to the city's east side, but simply were looking for an available building to suit their needs. The couple was quick to point out the location is just about three miles from the past site.
And even the mechanic they previously had employed but who had been forced to find other employment after the fire, has returned to work for the couple.
"We are just trying to get in motion and get back to what we know," Hazel said.