Cover to Cover Books
On a Friday in October of 2007 my mother called from back East and mentioned they'd had a fire in the basement. She and my father were fine, and the fire department had put the fire out before it got to the first floor. They were going to spend the night at a hotel, but everything was okay.
The next day, I called her and asked if she wanted me to fly back there. She said my sister was on her way from Vermont and that it was under control. The house looked pretty good.
The next day she called and said she needed help. It was way worse than it appeared.
When I arrived on the fourth day, the stench in the first and second floors of the house was overwhelming. In the basement, not only did wood burn, but plastic shelving, vinyl floorboard, and any number of other chemicals. The entire house reeked and had to be stripped down to the studs and rebuilt. Most of their belongings were a loss from smoke damage.
When a friend emailed last Friday, October 2010, with the news that Cover to Cover Books--where the Vancouver Writer's Mixer is held the first Saturday of every month, and where I had taken a writing class from best-selling author, Lilith Saintcrow--had suffered damage from a fire in the restaurant next door, memories of the dark, soot-filled rooms stinking of burnt chemicals and charred wood, assaulted me. I emailed the owner, but I knew the electricity was off. After work I rushed to downtown Vancouver and found her packing boxes of smelly, sooty books, to be hauled off by an after-the-fire
service company. Some of the books suffered water damage, with no hopes of saving them. All
the book shelves had to be dismantled and hauled away to the ozone chambers where they try to get out the smell of smoke and use chemicals to clean off the black.
Signs, posters, cork-board, displays are all a loss. Upholstered furniture is rarely able to be saved. Even the turkey vulture suffered from the odious smoke. Soot is everywhere. I tried cleaning off the desk top, but without chemicals, the black remains.
By Saturday afternoon, the store was empty except for a large pile of sodden rubble the owner must inventory while daylight filters through the grimy windows.
And now the real torture begins. The limbo. Being a helpless cog in a bogged-down, muck of bureaucracy. Although the fire was in the restaurant next door, it was all one building and the smoke and water damage in the bookstore is evident. Will the landlords rebuild? If they do, will it be three months? Six? A year? Will any of the books be saved? Will insurance cover the entire loss of inventory, hardware and furniture? Will it cover the months of closure?
The victim has no control over any of what happens next, and losing that control over one's life is the hardest of all to bear. I'm thankful the owner of the bookstore wasn't hurt. I'm thankful Smeadly the cat is unharmed, but I wonder if there is something we can do to help an independent bookstore owner through the next year of limbo. That is when my parents suffered the worst. It is the life-on-hold that lacerates the psyche.
If you have any ideas of how I (or we as a community) can help, please leave them here. We love our local bookstore owner. There are so few of them left.