business matters
Bill Wigton's office is in the Pullman Center Business Park. His first office in the Morgan Management Building burned to the ground.

Fire created obstacles for Wigton Eye Care

For three decades, Wigton Eye Care made a home of its office in the Morgan Management Building on Brugh Avenue.

Patriarch F.T. “Tom” Wigton, whose practice dated back to his return from World War II in 1949, had moved his office a couple of times before signing a lease with entrepreneur Bill Morgan.

“He knew Bill well. From the time he was a kid,” said Bill Wigton, one of Tom Wigton's sons.

Morgan had purchased the circa-1918, one-time Spaide Shirt Co. factory and refurbished it to be his own workspace as well as a medical office building in 1972.

Bill Wigton, also an optometrist who joined the family business after graduation in 1981, said, “that was the only office I'd ever worked in. It really was home to us.”

Bill Wigton recalls going to work early June 27, 2003, and being ushered out by firefighters.

“I was first on the scene” of an electrical fire that devastated the building and contents, Bill Wigton said.

The business' equipment was destroyed. Personal belongings were lost. And staff, safely outside as the building burned, was at first distressed.“Even as the building was burning, the Wigtons took the staff to lunch and promised them the business would reopen,” said office team leader, Kristen Crawford. “They said we'd need to band together and work as a team.”

The staff, community and fellow businesses rallied to get the optometrists' office open in a new but temporary home in about two weeks.

“It was unbelievable,” Bill Wigton said. “It was a heck of an effort.”

Bill Morgan helped Wigton relocate to office space in the city's Tier Garage. Makeshift cubicles divided the space into exam rooms. Necessary equipment was procured by local ophthalmologist, Everitt & Huriett, and lens manufacturer Beitler McKee. Other vendors donated furniture, fax machines, telephones — all the essentials.

One of the more tricky issues was the office's 40,000 medical records.

“At the time of the fire, we had just started switching over to computers, so most of our records were still on paper,” Bill Wigton said. “The cubicle where the records were stored was in a corner of the building that actually didn't get burned. But it was flooded by the water firefighters used putting out the fire.”

Wigton said a Pittsburgh company that specializes in fire and flood restoration took the salvaged records, froze them and dried them out for readability.Many were saved and back in doctors' use in no time at all.

Meantime, office staff worked around the clock, contacting patients and labs to find out if orders had already been shipped and what could be quickly recreated.

In-house lab manager Tracey Nevel voluntarily accepted the office's shipments, sometimes also meeting patients for pick ups, at her own home.

“We were thinking out of box,” Crawford said.

Renovations, like carpet installation, continued even after the patients started being seen at the new location.

“It was interesting,” Crawford said. “There were obstacles.”Wigton Eye Care already at that time had a second location in the Grove City area. But, Crawford said, that office could not absorb the city site's traffic.

Wigton Eye Care remained in its temporary city office about a year before moving to its current location, 120 Hollywood Drive, Suite 102.

“This had been an old Pullman Standard locker room,” Bill Wigton said.

In addition to functional equipment, Wigton said, “We lost a lot of sentimental items in the fire. Most of them were Dad's. He had these great old diplomas and memorabilia from when he flew reconnaissance missions in P38s. But Dad had a great life, and the fire didn't bother him. He'd lost two brothers in the war, so the fire didn't phase him at all. He just kept going.”