Downtown Advocates Optimistic For Brattleboro’s Recovery

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(Host) Last week’s devastating fire in the middle of Brattleboro will mean struggle and change for the more than half dozen local businesses displaced.

But downtown advocates are optimistic that the vibrant town center won’t lose its unique character or appeal.

VPR’s Susan Keese has more.

(water pouring)

(Keese) Flashlight in hand, Alison Luhrmann sifts through sodden paper goods, china and fancy linens in her dark, flooded store. Dragonfly Fancy Dry Goods occupied a prime spot in the fire-ravaged Brooks House block – on the corner of High Street and Main.

"It’s just stuff," Lurhmann tells herself repeatedly. But a lot of is really new stuff.

(Lurhmann) "I just got a bunch of new inventory. I wish I’d waited two weeks."

But Lurhmann says she’s luckier than other businesses affected by the fire. She does a lot of business online. She says that’s probably where she’ll concentrate her efforts — once she replaces her ruined software.

Lurhmann says other businesses in the building have been stopped cold.

(Lurhmann) "And I’m going to walk away fine. My business is probably going to get stronger. But I wish it had happened another way."

(Keese) Andrea Livermore directs the downtown group Building a Better Brattleboro. She says the good news is that the historic Brooks House remains structurally sound after the April 17th fire.

It also appears the owner, Jonathan Chase, would like to restore the building, though much remains to be worked out. Livermore says that’s great news for downtown Brattleboro.

(Livermore) "Inside, the news isn’t so great, primarily due to water damage. And again this is unofficial, but really I think the inside almost needs to be gutted and started again."

(Keese) Livermore says that could take a couple of years.

(Livermore) "So that means businesses and residents are needing to relocate, my guess is in some cases, probably forever."

(Keese) Those businesses include a couple of restaurants, a tailor, a 60-year old book store and many more. Local business officials say most are still working with their insurance companies and only beginning to weigh their options.

Meanwhile another historic Brattleboro building , the former Tri-State Auto plant, will have to be demolished because of industrial contamination.

The building is one of several purchased by the New England Youth Theater, which is working to create an arts campus.

A partnership called Fulcrum Arts, which had planned to buy the polluted building, has canceled those plans.

But the backers of the arts campus concept say they’re undeterred by the setback.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese.

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