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.