By Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger
CLARENDON — A late-night weekend blaze consumed a Vermont Country Store backup warehouse that many people, hearing initial police scanner chatter and incomplete press reports, feared was the nearby call and distribution center for the $100 million three-generation family business.
“We purchased the building just a few months ago to store overflow merchandise from our main warehouse location,” President Jim Hall said as the remains smoldered Sunday, Oct. 21. “Fortunately, the building was not yet fully stocked.”
Route 7B resident James Melna was watching the John Wayne movie “The Comancheros” late Saturday night when he looked out his front window and spotted flames shooting from the 16,000-square-foot former Pepsi warehouse across the road.
“When I saw it first, just the top was burning,” Melna said. “Then it got worse and worse.”
A crew of 18 members from the Clarendon Volunteer Fire Department, finding the nearest hydrant a mile away, soon called for assistance from colleagues in Chittenden, Danby, Killington, Mount Holly, Proctor, Rutland City, Rutland Town, Shrewsbury, Tinmouth, Wallingford and West Rutland.
“Metal siding, metal roof — we couldn’t get to the fire,” Clarendon Fire Chief Matthew Jakubowski said.
But after poking holes and eventually prying off the sides of the 18-foot-tall building, firefighters transporting water in tanker trucks were able to contain the blaze. By Sunday afternoon, Melna was out thanking the remaining crew members spraying down the cinders.
“Everything from perfume to soap to Christmas decorations to jams and jellies,” Fire Chief Jakubowski said of the charred mess. “It’s going to burn for a couple more days.”
No one was inside the building or injured by the blaze, the cause of which has yet to be determined. The fire didn’t affect the company’s customer service center, catalog and website operations or its two retail stores in Weston and Rockingham, although it consumed about 5 percent of the 72-year-old retailer’s total inventory.
“We’re already working with our suppliers to replace what was lost,” Hall said. “Our focus is to overcome this hurdle. We’re in the midst of hiring employees for the holiday season, and this fire won’t slow that down.”
“It’s not something you’d want to have happen, but there’s no meaningful disruption,” company spokeswoman Ann Warrell added. “That’s the best news scenario you could hope for.”