Article By: Bonnie Williamson
Photos By: Josh Triggs
“We lost everything,” says Cindi Dunn, who owns The Vintage Lady shop along with her husband Billy Ray.
“We literally watched it burn. It was unbelievable,” says Billy Ray.
In the early morning hours two years ago on July 23, a horrendous fire struck the small historic town of Harpers Ferry, WV. The fire, located in the commercial area of town, reportedly started on a back patio in a building owned by Doug Alexander. The building housed Private Quinn’s Pub. Quinn’s Pub has reopened but is now called Almost Heaven Pub and Grill.
Flames destroyed three buildings housing eight retail shops and two apartments. A fourth building suffered some fire damage. Luckily, no one was killed or injured.
According to Courtney Rosemond, public information specialist for the West Virginia Fire Marshal’s office, the fire did about $4 million worth of damage. Ironically, the only good thing about the inferno was the cause remains undetermined. Otherwise, if fire officials said arson was involved, the site would have been declared a crime scene, keeping retailers from moving back.
Despite the destruction, the sickening smell of the burning buildings and shock of watching her shop at 181 Potomac St. turn to cinders, Cindi never considered giving up on starting anew in Harpers Ferry.
“I never hesitated to reopen. We love it here,” Cindi says. “We chose not to be defeated.”
“It was terrible looking at that empty space, but Cindi’s positive attitude gave us new hope,” Billy Ray says.
Cindi went on the lookout for a new space immediately and found one at 196 High St. on a street above and parallel to her former store. She began ordering inventory from her home and moved into her new store Labor Day weekend six weeks after the fire.
“It’s so beautiful here. We have the mountains and the national park. And the community is so supportive,” Cindi says.
Shortly after the fire, the Harpers Ferry/ Bolivar Historic Towns Foundation sought donations to help the businesses hurt by the fire. More than $50,000 donations were received.
Cindi and her husband have been running The Vintage Lady in Harpers Ferry for 14 years. Both of the Dunns faced challenges even before the fire.
Neither one started out in the retail business. Both she and her husband were educators in Marietta, Ohio, before relocating to West Virginia in 2000 to be near family.
Even before the move from Ohio, Cindi found she liked to make jewelry from buttons and a variety of other materials.
She gave her creations as gifts, receiving numerous compliments. She began entering juried shows for ten years. She eventually went to work at Sky Mountain in Shepherdstown.
“I didn’t even know how to run a cash register,” she says, laughing.
Still, her creativity and determination led her to take over the shop in Harpers Ferry and begin her own business.
The Vintage Lady features Cindi’s creations and other jewelry made by Crystal Grimsley, the manager of The Vintage Lady for the last eight years.
Cindi says she loves nature, which is reflected in many of her pieces. Birds, butterflies, trees and leaves are part of the necklaces, earrings and unique pins she makes. She even took items she found in the remains of her burned store, refashioned them and made jewelry.
She also has an interest in photography. “I sell notecards in the store with words of inspiration on them,” she says. “The people here have given us so much support that I want to offer words of encouragement to help people through tragic events. Help them through challenging times.”
“But even though I do a lot of craft items, you have to be aware that this is a small business, not a hobby if you want to succeed,” Cindi adds.
The Vintage Lady has numerous items made in West Virginia by West Virginians. Cindi says the store definitely has a West Virginia theme. Visitors can find pieces of Blenko Glass from Milton, WV. The Blenko Glass Company is famous for the time-honored craft of hand-blown glass. All of Blenko products have exquisite colors and imaginative designs.
Glass made by accomplished glass artist Ron Hinkle is available at the store. Hinkle was born and reared in Buckhannon, WV.At The Vintage Lady you will also find West Virginia books, pottery, wine, beer, hard cider, shot glasses and food items like salt from J.Q. Dickinson Salt-Works in Malden, WV.
“During the 1800s, West Virginia was the largest salt producer in the country,” Cindi says.
The Dickinsons are a seventh generation salt-making family who harvest an all-natural salt by hand from an ancient ocean trapped below the Appalachian Mountains of the Kanawha Valley.
Tourists to the area can find plenty of souvenirs and learn a lot about West Virginia simply by browsing around the store.
A wide assortment of figurines carved from coal are available. In addition, there are plenty of items to keep youngsters occupied. Billy Ray is in charge of the children’s area.
“We have things like noise putty, mood rings, harmonicas and flutes, lots of things the kids enjoy,” he says.
Cindi says people continue to return to Harpers Ferry.
“So many people were brokenhearted by the fire, not only the people with businesses here, but visitors as well,” she says.
She adds it’s amazing how many people come to the area. She has a map in the store and places pins in it every month to indicate the places people are coming from.
“We’re a community of about only 290 residents, but we get a lot of attention,” Cindi says. “We’ve had people from all 50 states and 32 countries. There is just so much to see and do here. Hiking, boating, the history of the place, and the scenery alone is beautiful.”
Cindi says she is so pleased with her new location with its higher ceilings and rafters, but adds on her website that “we still consider ourselves a work in progress. We are always searching for new artists and are proud to carry the work of so many Made in America craftspeople. And…we are always excited to feature the amazing workmanship of so many talented West Virginia artists.”
For more information, go to the website at www.thevintagelady.net, check out Facebook or call 304-535-1313.