It's been just over a month since fire heavily damaged the Brooks Building in the heart of downtown Brattleboro and the community continues to cope with the loss of the landmark.
The economic activity is noticeable in downtown Brattleboro. Open signs on store fronts. Shoppers in the streets. It's a big change from last month when fire brought Main Street to a screeching halt. "This town really has such a great sense of community and people really come together," said Dora Bouboulis, a Brattleboro Selectboard Member.
The historic Brooks House caught fire on a mid-April evening after an electrical short. About 60 tenants and nine storefronts had to be abandoned. The future of building was anything but certain. But on this day, while the sidewalk in front of the Brooks House remains closed, work is moving forward to gut the structure and rebuild. Officials say in about a year's time, it could once again be filled with occupants. "It is a very big piece of the commerce downtown and we will be looking forward to having those spaces re-open," Bouboulis said.
While the building itself may not open for a year, downtown merchants say getting the sidewalk to reopen to foot traffic will be a big step. That's likely to happen within a week and merchants say its another sign of life for this resilient community. "To have the ability to show a pretty cohesive Main Street, still intact even though it is empty in some places, just to have the building here is petty amazing," said Greg Worden with Vermont Artisan Designs. "This community is a good community. It's one that we are proud of and we like to share it with others."
But others are not as optimistic. "I think the jury is still out on how it is going to affect us," said Donna Simons, a downtown merchant.
Simons has been in Brattleboro for the better part of three decades and she says she's not worried about the short term. "It hasn't affected my businesses. I don't know of too many other people who have said it has affected theirs. But I think if we don't pull together and try to do some major promotion to keep please coming to downtown, I think we could find some problems down the road," she said.
And it just so happens that road runs right through the heart of this community.
The community has been holding ongoing fundraisers for victims of the fire. So far, 20-thousand dollars has gone to the United Way Brooks House Fund. Rebuilding the Brooks House is expected to cost far more than its 2-million dollar assessed value.