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Hell, and high water

After losing the Book Cellar to fire, Lisa Sullivan struggles with flood damage at Bartleby’s

WILMINGTON—Water and books don’t mix.

Four feet of Deerfield River water carrying mud, debris, and fuel from dislodged propane tanks, courtesy of Tropical Storm Irene, made for an estimated 90 percent loss of Bartleby’s Books & Music’s inventory.

“We are planning to reopen just as soon as we can,” said bookstore owner Lisa Sullivan.

Sullivan and her husband, Phil Taylor, stood in the bookstore Sunday watching the river’s surge down West Main Street.

As the water rose against the building’s front and picture windows, Sullivan said that Taylor, a contractor, decided to let water in lest the river’s weight damage the building structurally.

Immediately, they smelled propane in the water.

“My husband said we needed to get out,” said Sullivan.

With their street access flooding, the couple escaped through the back of the store. Sullivan said they ran up an internal staircase to the second floor, down an outside flight of stairs behind the building, and climbed the steep slope of Ray Hill, where the couple lives.

From Ray Hill Road, which overlooks the center of town, Sullivan and Taylor watched the dirty, rushing water engulf the Route 9 bridge and flood the downtown businesses.

She said it was surreal watching the river rampage through downtown.

On Monday, Sullivan entered the store and found soaked books, knocked-over shelves, and drenched drywall.

Books on the top two shelves on the first floor remained dry, she said, as did those on the second and third floors.

And, she added, the building “is okay structurally.”

Sullivan estimates the flood destroyed nearly $200,000 in inventory and $100,000 more in furnishings and shelves.

Sullivan had flood insurance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) because the building, like most of downtown Wilmington, sits in a flood plain.

FEMA has informed Sullivan that funds will take a while to arrive due to the high volume of claims.

“I’m not waiting [for FEMA],” said Sullivan.

Racing against mold

Then the race against advancing mold started as soon as the water receded, she said.

On Tuesday, Sullivan and an “army of volunteers” hauled out the store over five hours, using wheelbarrows and “heft.”

A heap of soggy books sits outside the store, she said, because the town isn’t passable enough to haul debris in and out.

Any salvageable inventory was moved to the second floor.

Windows, drywall, shelving, electrical system, and water/sewer all need replacing or repairing, added Sullivan. Rebuilding will take some time and funds.

Sullivan lost her other store, The Book Cellar in Brattleboro, in April during the Brooks House Fire.

While Bartleby’s is an empty shell, said Sullivan, she says she feels “okay; we can start from here.”

Sullivan and Taylor own the Bartleby’s building. The structure has existed through multiple incarnations.

Most recently a three-floor retail, yoga, and office space on West Main Street, the building was built in the 1800s as a carriage area. In another lifetime, it served as a Ford garage. Later, it became living and retail space, from which Klara-Simpla Health Foods operated for many years.

Sullivan said she will post updates on the store’s website, , and the store’s Facebook page.

Speaking as the president of the Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce, Sullivan said the biggest issue facing Wilmington right now is reopening the roads, especially Route 9, the main east-west route in southern Vermont.

Without Route 9, she said, it’s not easy getting people, food, supplies, and medical services to and from town.

“It’s one step at a time in starting this clean-up process,” Sullivan said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #116 (Wednesday, August 31, 2011).

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