Fire at a Bookstore


Josie Leavitt - April 19, 2011

In the years I’ve been open, there have been a handful of bookstore fires throughout the country, but Sunday night there was one close to home, and it’s shaken me up.

The Book Cellar, in Brattleboro, Vt., suffered potentially catastrophic losses in a five-alarm fire that took more than 150 firefighters from 25 fire departments in Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire to extinguish. There were no injuries, but the people who live in the 59 apartments in the building will need to find new places to live.

I have never been to the Book Cellar, but I’ve become friends with its owner, Lisa Sullivan. She and I serve on the Advisory Council of the New England Independent Bookselling Association. She’s also a regular at the children’s meetings that NECBA (New England Children’s Bookselling Advisory Council) four times yearly. Her insight into bookselling has always been engaging. She’s quick to laugh at the absurdities of our business and she’s always someone I’m happy to talk to. And she’s just full of great ideas that, with her blessing, I freely emulate.

Fire and bookstores are a devastating combination. The flammability of everything is so potentially destructive. And if the fire doesn’t destroy your inventory, the sprinklers surely will. The photos and the videos on the local news here show a massive fire on the upper floors of the building. The bookstore, on the ground floor, appears to be sooty and water is just streaming down the front door. The big question now is, how safe is the building? A structural engineer will make a determination soon and until then everyone waits.

As a bookstore owner, I feel for Lisa and her staff. Although I can’t know exactly what they’re feeling, I can only imagine how I’d feel if I saw my store in the aftermath of a fire, and it would be tragic. I have emailed Lisa to find out more, but have not heard back.  One thing I do know, Vermonters will rally behind Lisa and her much-loved store, just as they did on Martha’s Vineyard when Bunch of Grapes suffered a massive fire almost three years ago.

So,  while we wait to hear the fate of the Book Cellar, go to your local indie bookstore, record store, restaurant or coffee shop today and tell them how much they mean to you and your community, and since you’re in there, buy a little something, too.

6 thoughts on “Fire at a Bookstore

  1. Susie Wilmer

    The first store we started in Cheyenne WY, a Book Rack, was hit by arson in 1988. I knew I felt bad, but I had no idea of what was to happen as we struggled to stay in business. We had great support from our customers and from fellow book stores who rallied to get us new used stock. We had insurance and a lot was covered-enough to get back in business. The experience was still incredible bad. My memories of the time are spotty, not to mention the extra weight I gained by starting the day with a sticky bun. One of my clearest memories was how incredibly black everything was when we re-entered the store before it was gutted. If the owners choose not to re-open I really know why they would make such a hard decision. I have commented to my husband that I might not have worked so hard given the same circumstances. It took more than a decade for the sales to recover.

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  2. Gail Kearns

    Vermont is my home state. I was so saddened to hear of The Book Cellar’s tragedy. My heart goes out to Lisa, her staff and all those who frequented the bookstore.

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  3. Ana McDaniel

    Our sincere and heartfelt thanks to all for the outpouring of support we’ve received! If there is any silver lining in this whole calamity, it is the immediate and tremendous amount of good will that has been directed out way. At times being an independent bookseller can feel all too . . . independent. However, the past 48 hours have shown us that in no way are we alone in facing the steep climb ahead. Blessing to all! With love and gratitude, Ana McDaniel – manager at The Book Cellar

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  4. Carin Siegfried

    oh, how awful! This reminds me of the fire at Bunch of Grapes a few years ago. I am glad Lisa and the staff are all safe, and I hope her insurance is overpaid and that she was overinsured! It’s a great bookstore.

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  5. Randy Susan Meyers

    The Book Celler is a wonderful bookstore with an owner and staff who are devoted to books. When I read there I was thrilled with the place and am devastated to hear about this. I pray they can reopen.

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