Store owners Mary and LeRoy Marquiss said their business, home and lives have been threatened since news of Wickstrom's meetings broke in June 2003. They both believe the building was set on fire by someone who wants the meetings to stop.
"They think they won," Mary Marquiss said, but she vowed to rebuild or look for another place to continue running the store, which includes a water treatment business.
The meetings have been suspended, but only temporarily, she said.
"The only way they'll stop that is to kill us," she said.
Agents from the FBI and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were called to the scene this morning, along with an accelerant-sniffing dog.
State Fire Marshal Leonard Jaskulka said federal investigators were called because they're familiar with Wickstrom and his connection to the store.
Wickstrom calls himself a pastor and uses the Bible to teach that whites are God's true chosen people. He openly calls for the murders of Jewish people.
The Marquisses invited Wickstrom to live in the area a few years ago.
Wickstrom relocated to Tennessee in late June 2003, shortly after news about his meetings was published in The Times. He returned to living in the area around October 2003, and held a "Feast of First Fruits" meeting on Memorial Day weekend that attracted people from several states.
LeRoy Marquiss said he opened the building as a water treatment store in 1951, and added furniture later on. He said he's been slowly getting out of the furniture business, selling his remaining pieces because he can't find enough American-made furniture to sell.
Fire Marshal Jaskulka said a passing driver called in the fire just before 2 a.m.
Firefighters arrived to find flames coming from the front of the store, said Lt. Michael Wedding of the Hampton Township Police Department. They knocked out the main fire in about 20 minutes, and spent three more hours putting out hot spots, Wedding said.
The fire burned out the front of the store, which housed furniture and was used for Wickstrom's meetings.
The Marquisses said three offices in the back of the building appeared to have been spared. LeRoy Marquiss said it looks like the fire started inside an east window, away from electrical outlets.
Jaskulka said the building was a total loss, and there was "nothing salvageable."
No one was in the building at the time and no injuries were reported.
The Marquisses found out about the fire when police knocked on the door of their home at 3:30 a.m.
They called Wickstrom, who is out of town at another meeting. LeRoy Marquiss said Wickstrom told them he was sorry for what had happened and would be back in town as soon as he could.
The building is insured, the owners said, but there were many things inside that can't be replaced.
The owners said they think the fire is a sign of the evil Wickstrom preaches against.
"We're in a war," LeRoy Marquiss said. "A war between the lies and the truth, and the American people got to know the truth."
Center Road was closed off in front of the store this morning. The state fire marshal said it would remain closed until at least noon.
Nora Wiedyk, a cook at J&R Center Road Bar, which is next door, called the fire "awful" and said she hopes the cause was electrical.
"No matter what, they are nice people," she said of the store's owners. "They don't deserve that."
Wiedyk said she doesn't agree with the message preached at the store, but a fire is not a way to solve a problem. The blaze could have burned her business or injured firefighters, she said.
Wedding said the store has never caused any problems for the Hampton Police Department, located nearby.
"It's always been peaceful gatherings," Wedding said. "We've never had any calls or problems here."
- Jeff Kart covers the environment and politics for The Times. He can be reached at 894-9639.