Berlin Merchants Regrouping After Devastating Fire

Berlin Merchants Regrouping After Devastating Fire
Photo by Charlene Sharpe

BERLIN – The tang of smoke lingered in the air and glass crunched underfoot as Berlin merchant Ashley Abell surveyed the damage in her Main Street shop Tuesday afternoon.

The once vibrant business, Attics of My Life, is a dreary mess in the wake of Monday’s fire in the Donaway Furniture building. The fire, reported just before 8:30 a.m. April 23, was quickly contained but resulted in the temporary closures of Attics of My Life and Bird of Paradise.

“I don’t have any words,” Abell said.

She’s struggling to come to terms with the fact that her entire inventory of home décor, repurposed furniture and DIY products is ruined.  She says the loss is particularly hard to take because the shop was filled not just with things she’d purchased to sell but with pieces she’d made herself.

“It’s the heart and soul,” she said. “My love was in everything.”

Fire companies from Berlin, Showell, Ocean Pines and Ocean City were alerted to the commercial structure fire at 11 S. Main Street at 8:24 a.m. Monday.  The fire, which was reported by the occupants of one of the units adjacent to Attics of My Life when they smelled smoke, was brought under control. Abell, whose shop was not occupied at the time, learned of the fire through a Facebook message and arrived as quickly as she could.

“The fire departments were so wonderful to me,” she said.

Donaway Appliance owner Newt Chandler, who has an office in the building, also praised emergency responders for their efforts.

“The fire company did an excellent job getting here quick and mitigating the damage,” he said.

As of Tuesday, the Worcester County Fire Marshal’s Office was still investigating.

“The fire damage was contained to Attics of my Life with smoke damage in two adjacent units,” a statement on the fire marshal’s website read. “The cause of the fire is under investigation and is listed as undetermined at this time.”

Robert Rhode, an assistant chief with the Berlin Fire Company, said he’d not been present at the fire but confirmed that it was still under investigation when questioned by town officials at a meeting this week.

“They had a kitchen fire inside of the business,” he said. “The fire was contained to the room of origin. There was some smoke damage and heat damage to the rest of the building.”

Insurance adjusters were in and out of the building Tuesday. Abell said that once she was given permission by the agencies involved she would be eager to begin sorting through the shop to determine if anything was salvageable.


The interior of the new Attics of My Life retail store is pictured Tuesday. Photo by Charlene Sharpe

Next door, though the interior of Bird of Paradise appears to be intact, shop owner Maria Brittingham said she would have to replace her entire inventory because the store had been filled with smoke.

“You can’t get that smell out,” she said.

She’s disappointed that the shop, which just opened four weeks ago, will be closed just as activity in town was picking up.

“We were just about to get into the season,” she said.

Abell, who also just opened her shop in Berlin this year, says she’s not sure what she’s going to do as she waits for approval to begin sorting through her store.

“When you’re used to working seven days a week…now I don’t know what to do,” she said.

Abell said she was, however, encouraged by the outpouring of community support in the hours following the fire.

“People I didn’t even know were coming up,” she said.

Abell’s friend Colby Nelson Phillips also created the “Attics of My Life Fire Fund” on Go Fund Me.

“They have put so much sweat and tears and love into creating this lifelong dream and the damage from the fire destroyed everything,” Phillips wrote on the fundraising website. “Unfortunately, the insurance they had isn’t going to help much with the rebuilding of their shop. Any help that is able to be given, would be so greatly appreciated. It is times like these where we as a community need to come together and help.”

As of Wednesday morning, more than $4,200 had been donated to the cause. Abell says she’s grateful for the support.

“It takes a village to help when things get rough,” she said.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.