After fire, Valley Grocery owners: ‘Very good chance we’ll rebuild’
KEENE VALLEY — Through the caved-in roof of the Valley Grocery store, sunlight shone on burnt packages of toilet paper, Kleenex tissues and tampons. On the far left to the store, plastic containers of Oreo and Keebler cookies were melted to their shelves. Globs of fire extinguisher foam from the day before spotted the parking lot like bubbles in a bathtub. The rest of the inside was full of blackened metal and burnt wood with nails sticking out.
That was the sight a day after a devastating fire. Keene Valley Fire Chief Rusty Hall called the building a “total loss.”
At approximately 3 p.m. Sunday, the store that has been a staple of the community for more than 50 years was engulfed in flames and a cloud of smoke.
Hall said it took help from multiple fire departments — Keene Valley, Keene, Jay, Upper Jay, Lake Placid, Wilmington, Elizabethtown and AuSable Forks — to extinguish the flames. Hall said there were a couple of areas in the ceiling that were difficult to reach with fire hoses until the Lake Placid Volunteer Fire Department arrived with its aerial ladder truck. The fire burned for the next four hours.
When the Enterprise arrived on the scene Monday, co-owner Bruce Reed and his friends were boarding up the doors and windows with plywood.
“Just making sure people don’t get hurt,” he said.
He and his wife Carol took over as owners of the store in 2014 after her father Richard Hall died.
“It’s been in the family for 49 years,” Bruce said.
Since she was 10 years old, Carol would open and close the store six days a week, according to Bruce.
“It was bad,” Bruce said. “It was terrible to see everything we’ve done just gone.”
When asked what the fire looked like, Bruce pulled out his smartphone and displayed a photo of firefighters approaching a mass of dark smoke. The store underneath couldn’t even be seen.
All the products inside the shop were either burnt, melted or drenched.
“We had everything from bags of chips to ribeye steaks,” Bruce said. “There had to be thousands and thousands of dollars worth of stuff in there.”
The store is closed on Sundays, so nobody got hurt. It’s still unsure how the flames sparked, but Bruce doesn’t think there was any foul play.
Next door, John DeZalia stood in his garage and looked out the window, peering over his fence at the burnt building and clean-up crew. His parents owned the business before selling it to the Halls in 1969. Prior to that, it was Trumbull’s Garage, an auto shop that serviced motorcycles and cars.
DeZalia heard about the fire after his daughter called him and said to look outside.
“There was smoke everywhere,” he said. “It looked like it had been burning inside for a while.”
Valley Grocery is the only food market in the small hamlet. Without it, residents will have to shop for food in Lake Placid or Elizabethtown, although they can get milk and eggs and a few other things at Stewart’s Shop in Keene.
DeZalia he hasn’t set foot in the store since his parent sold it, but nevertheless he said, “For this community, I think it’s going to be a loss.”
Martha Allen, a Keene Valley resident and Lake Placid News correspondent, witnessed the fire and said the store was an important part of the community.
“I shopped there almost every day,” Allen said. “You’d meet people there and talk and make friends.”
Allen took a photo of the fire, which was featured in Monday’s Enterprise.
“It was very upsetting,” she said. “I tried calling my daughter to tell her about it, and it made me cry.”
The Hall family has long been involved with the fire department. Richard Hall was fire chief for 27 years and helped organize the department’s first ambulance squad.
“The loss of such a community icon is devastating,” the Keene Valley Hose and Ladder Company No. 1 posted on its Facebook page. “The Valley Grocery does so much for our organization and we wish there was more we could have done.”
As Bruce Reed stood next to the scorched building, he said his two daughters came home when they heard about the fire. He said the community has been supportive in these hectic times.
“Our whole family is pretty tough,” Reed said. “We always bounce back. We’ll let the dust settle and work some stuff out, but there’s a very good chance we’ll rebuild.”