TIPP CITY — Almost a week after fire devastated a historic downtown Tipp City landmark, it’s still too soon to tell what the future of the building might be.
But owner Bill Jones is cautiously optimistic that the building, which housed Browse Awhile Books and several apartments, may yet be rebuilt.
It all depends on Monday, he said, when a structural engineer will assess the building and determine whether it can be restored.
According to Jones, the first floor appears to have little to no fire damage. But the upstairs apartments, where the blaze started, were destroyed.
He is holding out hope that the first floor is sound enough for the second story to be reconstructed.
“I plan to rebuild, if it can be done,” Jones said. “But if the whole thing has to come down, I’ll have to do some hard thinking.”
If it can be rebuilt, the bookstore will also return, Jones assured. He has owned the business since 1990.
The McConnaughey-Young building, as the sign above the windows once read, has been a fixture of the downtown landscape since it was built in 1871. It, along with the rest of the Old Tippecanoe Main Street Historic District, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Fire crews were first called to the scene last Monday night, and cleared residents to return to their apartments. But the fire rekindled early the next morning, resulting in terrible losses for the tenants and the bookstore.
The fire also damaged the neighboring a neighboring store, Merchant31, which remains closed until a temporary location can be secured.
The cause of the fire has not been determined officially, but it is not believed to be suspicious.
The damage is estimated to be in the $600,000 range, Tipp City Fire Chief Steve Kessler said, though that number may change depending on how much of the store’s inventory can be saved.
In the hours following the fire, the community mobilized quickly to collect donations for the displaced tenants and the business. A GoFundMe page was created, which has raised nearly $8,000 of its $10,000 goal as of press time.
“I just want to say how thankful we are,” building resident Shannon Mitchell said. “The support from the community has been so overwhelmingly heartwarming.”
Shortly after the community became aware of the destruction, donations of clothing and other items began pouring in.
“It was almost instant,” Mitchell said.
They lost all of their belongings, including their pet cat, but Mitchell, her husband and another resident were lucky to make it out of the building unharmed, she added.
Mitchell and her husband have been provided with temporary housing, but they both want to get back into a downtown space soon. They, too, hope that their apartment can be rebuilt.
“Nowhere else will ever be like that place,” Mitchell added. “That was home.”
For now there’s still so much to be done before any plans for rebuilding can begin, Jones said.
He and longtime store manager Amanda Carl have been hard at work salvaging what they can of the store’s inventory, estimated to total about $1 million.
In addition to the monetary donations and the many people who have volunteered their time to help, local business Amity Mold provided more than 200 plastic tubs to store salvaged books, Carl said.
“The support from the community has been fantastic,” she said.
As for the ghosts believed to haunt the bookstore, Carl said, “they’ve let us know they’re still there.”
Reach reporter Cecilia Fox at [email protected] or (937) 552-2205.