Rumor Has It
The longest night
Wednesday, July 24, 2019
“Now Clark’s is on fire.”
That’s the text I received at 7:30pm on Wed., July 17. Since I was nearby, I went to the block of Railroad Avenue that was home to Clark Feed and Seed to see what was going on. I knew as I followed a fire engine with lights and sirens on from Marietta—well outside its normal service area—that I’d find some kind of fire when I arrived. What I didn’t know was how bad it would be.
When I left four hours later, I had my answer: It was very bad indeed.
During those hours, I watched as firefighters tried to save the beloved pet store that has been in that location for more than four decades. At one point, they seemed to gain the upper hand, the smoke cleared slightly and some of the fire companies rolled up their hoses and departed the scene.
While heavily damaged, it appeared as if Clark’s might’ve survived its second brush with fire, less than six months after flames destroyed Hohl’s Feed and Seed next door.
But that relief was short-lived as the fire flared back up in dramatic fashion, flames leaping from the roof as firefighters poured an increasing volume of water on it from a pair of ladder trucks.
I don’t know what time it was when it became clear that Clark’s would be lost. Nor did I check the clock when the fire crawled to the roof of Avalon Records and began wreaking its destructive havoc on the record store that’s been there since Jim Nickol bought it from Budget Tapes and Records in 1987 and renamed it Avalon. I’ve forgotten the exact point at which the ceiling of Avalon collapsed into the store—although the image of it is imprinted on my memory likely forever. As is the sight of untold gallons of water pouring out of the store as firefighters doused it from above, dumping a volume of water so great I was unable to comprehend how anything could still be burning despite the fact that I could see the flames right in front of me.
What the fire didn’t damage, the water ruined. It was an elemental showdown the likes of which I hope to never witness again.
At some point during that dark night of the soul, I stood next to the owners of both businesses—Larry Oltmann of Clark Feed and Seed and Chris Lamb of Avalon—as they watched their livelihoods burn. I don’t really know how to reckon with the loss of nearly an entire block in the heart of downtown Bellingham to two fires in five months. I earn my living figuring out how to describe things. But, sometimes, there simply are no words.