West Pawlet Rallies Around Store Owners

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(Host) The owners of a store in West Pawlet that burned to the ground ten days ago, say they plan to rebuild the popular local gathering spot.

As VPR’s Susan Keese reports, members of the community are doing what they can to make sure Dutchie’s Store rises from the ashes.

(Keese) Will Kuban still has a bandage on his hand from when he burned it on the third story wall above his bed.  Waking, he heard a crackling sound.

(Kuban) "And I just bolted upright in bed, and said, ‘We’ve got to go, something’s wrong.’"

(Keese) Eric Swanson, Kuban’s partner, says there were smoke detectors in the store and in their living quarters upstairs. But there was no smoke initially, because the fire started next to the store in a little storage building next door.

(Swanson) "And the wind actually blew the flames to our building. And that’s why our exit was engulfed, because we had an outside stair that was attached and covered, so we had no way out when we first tried to get out."

(Kuban) "I think in my heart I knew that we were not going to get our babies out, our puppies."

(Keese) Kuban and Swanson did lose two of their three dogs, Charlie and Cheyenne, in the fire. A third dog, Mollie literally leapt out the window, followed by Swanson, who was guided off a burning ledge by a still-unidentified passerby.

There was also a human fatality, Gary Cary, a West Pawlet native who apparently built a fire and fell asleep in the vacant building next door.

Swanson says Cary was a well known figure in West Pawlet. He lived and worked at a nearby farm and was often given rides by local people. He had problems, but he was a hard worker, who sometimes helped at the store by shoveling coal or bagging garbage

(Swanson) "I think if I had known that he had no place to stay that night I would have at least set him up someplace where he could have been warm."

(Keese) Swanson and Kuban moved to Vermont from Connecticut several years ago because they wanted to be part of a community. They bought the old Dutchie’s store, which had been in decline.

People say that as the store was revitalized, so was the village of West Pawlet

(Lago) "Everybody came here, everybody loved those guys."

(Keese) Cindy Lago stands outside the blackened rubble of Dutchie’s store.

(Lago) ".And you can tell from everything – all the things that are going on. There’s a pig roast on April 10th. So, see the whole community has lost but they’ve all come together."

(Keese) Townspeople have made a sort of altar at the burned-out store, with flowers, teddy bears and mementos both for Cary and for Swanson and Kuban.

"Hey, how you doing there?"

(Hadley) "I came by to see if you guys needed more tickets for the Dutchie’s thing. We’re makin’ lots of money for ‘em."

(Keese) Hadley Stock, a local mother of two, is running around in nearby Pawlet, collecting donations for the upcoming benefit, which includes a silent auction, dance band and much more.

Kuban and Swanson are overwhelmed by everything that’s happened. But with neighbors like theirs eagerly awaiting their return, they wonder, how could they not rebuild the store?

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese

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