ALTON — A break-in turned into a robbery and a robbery turned into a fire that devastated a downtown Alton business this spring.
Country Meadows Antiques, 401 E. Broadway, was entering its 29th year of business when an unknown person broke into the store May 10 and later set it on fire, causing extensive damage.
“We had to close down for a few months because we had to move everything out,” co-owner Pam Voyles said. “We had to restore what we could. We are still cleaning stuff and there is still more to work on; we want to make everything just right.”
During the last five months, Voyles, along with husband, Gary, worked on improving the store. There were two areas badly damaged in the fire, while the rest of the space was salvageable but needed renovating.
“The smoke damage was extensive,” Voyles said. “There is a big difference in some aspects of the store; for example, the ceiling used to be green and now it is painted white, which makes the store a lot brighter than before.
“In August, we entered our 29th year of business and you just never dream that something like this could happen. You see fires like this on the news and things like this happening on television and you just cannot imagine your home burning.”
Reopening day Oct. 3 included a huge support system from the community, according to the owners. Voyles expected people to shop at other locations but says she also was afraid her store could be forgotten after five long months of restoration.
To her surprise, the store was anything but forgotten.
“We have so many loyal customers,” she said. “We have been busy every day since we reopened with people coming back to our store. I was afraid people could easily forget about us. People who antique need their fix, so I knew they would go to other stores, but people have been extremely supportive.”
Not only was the community supportive after the reopening, but they stood behind the business the day of the fire as well.
“(That day), people were surrounding the store,” she said. “People were in as much shock as we were. Roads were blocked, we were on the news, and it was circulated all over the Internet. We had support from friends all over the country offering to help.”
Today, the look may be updated and the inventory refreshed, but the hometown feel of a business reborn is as strong as ever.
“It feels fantastic being open again; it is a relief,” Voyles said. “We can take a breath and slow down a bit now. I can tell we have been missed.
“During the cleaning, there wasn’t anything to display, so it’s a lot of fun to be able to get back into it and being able to create a new look. It was difficult with all the boxes around trying to get everything into its place. It’s just great to be back.”
Above all, the owners have learned to cherish each and every day.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Voyles said. “It could have been worse. The building could have burned down, no one was injured and none of the firefighters were injured.
“God has a plan. Sometimes I wish he would enlighten me to the outcome, but I do know that there are many more good things to come.”
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