Confused customers stood outside a “Temporarily Closed” sign hanging on the doors of Office Depot, 101 S. Providence Road, on Tuesday morning.
At 11:45 a.m. Richard Sternadori, Columbia’s chief building inspector, ordered the store to be evacuated and to close its doors for an undetermined amount of time. He cited lateral soil pressures from the foundation wall on the building’s south side that had spread to the roof, making the building unsafe for occupants.
One wall is buckling under the pressure, Sternadori said, although it is not visible from the front doors.
“The only folks allowed in are those essential to the repair process — the manager, the contractor and a few other people,” Sternadori said. “We need a few people to serve as liaisons to the city and provide basic services like the alarms and lights, so they are allowed in, but that’s it.”
Office Depot manager Robert Castle said he couldn’t comment on the state of the building except that the store was closed for repairs. He did say that he hopes the store will reopen in seven to nine days.
Sternadori said the decision would be left up to the building’s contractors.
The problem was brought to the city’s attention Friday, when Sternadori received a request for a building contract renewal.
Columbia resident Denise McDaniel said she called Tuesday morning to make sure the store was still open in order to pick up Christmas thank-you cards, and the manager said he would meet her at the door with the order.
“I was just here the other day, and it was open,” she said. “It looked like they were having some problems, but the manager was very nice and didn’t charge me for the cards.”
Customer Dave Zellmer said he got a call about 11 a.m. Tuesday telling him to pick up an order, “but when I got here at about 12:30, they were closed.”
The building is owned by the Edgar G. Wayland Trust of Columbia. Attorney Daniel Simon, who represents the trust, could not be reached for comment.
A representative for Office Depot’s corporate office said she had no knowledge of the problem.