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home : top news : top news September 15, 2014

1/12/2013 8:38:00 AM
Downtown St. J Stores Reopen After Fire
Madeleine Winfield of St. Johnsbury shops the Northeast Kingdom Artisans Guild on Friday. The Railroad Street store reopened Friday after closing last month because of smoke damage caused by the 1879 Building fire.
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Madeleine Winfield of St. Johnsbury shops the Northeast Kingdom Artisans Guild on Friday. The Railroad Street store reopened Friday after closing last month because of smoke damage caused by the 1879 Building fire.

Taylor Reed
Staff Writer

ST. JOHNSBURY -- Northeast Kingdom Artisans Guild on Railroad Street is back in business.

The art co-op -- which sustained smoke damage from the 1879 Building fire on December 23 -- reopened Friday.

"We are 100 percent," Norma St. Germain, a co-op board member, said Friday while tending the store. "We're happy to be back on the street and part of the community again."

A grand-reopening ceremony is scheduled January 19 from 3-5 p.m.

Madeleine Winfield of St. Johnsbury was among the store's first customers Friday.

"It's nice to know they're here again," Winfield said. "It's great. I usually like to peek in."

St. Germain said Artisans Guild last month was flooded with smoke from the downtown fire. The store is separated from the 1879 Building by only an alleyway.


St. Johnsbury-based Cleanway Services was tapped to repair the damage at Artisans Guild, St. Germain said. The company spent a week on the job with seven or eight employees, she said.

"We ended up with Cleanway cleaning everything in the store, all of the art inventory: paintings, fabrics, pottery, everything," St. Germain said. "It was a huge job. They did a wonderful job."

Artisans Guild has insurance, she said.

The store contains more than 1,500 items from the co-op's 100 members, St. Germain said. Wares range from earrings to ornaments to paintings to furniture.

"We really had no damage to any of the artworks," St. Germain said. "They were able to be cleaned completely."

Unfortunately, closing the store cost a few weeks of sales, St. Germain said. That hurt, but the co-op survived, she said.

"We feel we did have a substantial loss of sales while we were closed," St. Germain said.

On the upshot, community members and downtown businesses were extremely helpful in the fire's aftermath, she said. Frame Dames on Railroad Street, for example, housed fabric items from Artisans Guild, and community members helped carry the items there, St. Germain said.

"People helped us," she said. "Business owners and customers and people from down the street helped us."

Sherri Pearl, an Artisans Guild board member, said a number of people are being invited to the grand-reopening ceremony next week. Citizens may attend too.

"We're going to invite the fire department and just a bunch of people to say 'Thank you," Pearl said. "We're also just trying to get the word out that we are open again."

Pearl on December 23 made the 911 call to alert authorities of the 1879 Building fire. Pearl, who was working at Artisans Guild that day, was notified of the blaze by a customer who had just left the store.

"He came back in and said, 'You ought to call 911,'" Pearl recalls.

Workers at Artisans Guild and random citizens removed the store's fabric wares in order to prevent smoke damage, Pearl said. She is thankful Frame Dames offered to store the items.

"We were going to put them in our vehicles," Pearl said.

Artisans Guild has been on downtown Railroad Street for nearly 15 years.

Artisans Guild was not the only downtown Railroad Street business to suffer from last month's fire.

Wool Away sustained smoke damage. It reopened soon after.

Artistic Gardens was not so lucky. It was located in the 1879 Building, and was destroyed.

The business, however, has already rebounded. It went operational this week at a temporary spot in St. Johnsbury.

"We can take phone orders and run deliveries like we always have," Suzanne Taylor, who owns the business with her husband Paul "Butch" Taylor, said Friday. "If you have flower needs, give us a call."

The business's phone number remains the same. The shop itself is in a garage the Taylors use for another business.

It is not equipped for walk-in traffic, Suzanne Taylor said. The business though is tentatively slated to relocate to the 1879 Building following its reconstruction, she said.

Suzanne Taylor also said she is working with her insurance company now to recoup losses, which is an extremely time consuming process.

"It's a bummer," she said. "But other than that, we're in pretty good spirits. The entire crew is still here. Everybody is still working."

Nobody at Artistic Gardens lost their job because of the fire, she said.

In related matters, resident Bruno Ravel, owner of the 1879 Building, is still working to rebuild, according to Scott Beck, executive director of the St. Johnsbury Chamber of Commerce and owner of Boxcar & Caboose Bookshop & Cafe on Railroad Street. Ravel this week contacted Black River Design Architects in Montpelier to begin developing a new floor plan for the building, Beck said.

Ravel in the process may remodel a second downtown building he owns that houses apartments and the Artisan's Guild. Ravel may connect his two buildings with a walkway, and in one building install an elevator for use by people in both buildings via the connector, Beck said.

"It's quite hopeful," he said. "But these are just preliminary plans and nothing has been signed."

More information should be available in a few weeks, he said.

Beck is pleased with Ravel's decision to tap Black River.

"They're professional and they've got a really good reputation," Beck said.

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