Gail Ellis remembers feeling overwhelmed while standing in her Michigan Avenue store, surveying the racks of new clothing spoiled by the stench of smoke.
Fire had broken out in the Point Edward shop the evening before. It was quickly contained by firefighters and no one was hurt, but the smoke damage ruined Ellis’ entire inventory.
It was devastating.
“It’s kind of like a death. You feel such a loss,” says Ellis who opened Abby’s Wardrobe in 2013.
She had unpacked most of the new Christmas stock shortly before the Nov. 17 fire. The store contained more merchandise than at any other time of the year because of the holiday season.
The racks of dresses, pants, cruise wear, blouses and sweaters were worth at least $50,000, and nothing but some jewelry was salvageable, said Ellis.
“I was at such a loss about what to do for the first few days,” she said. “You go into shock. I was looking around me saying, what do I do?”
Luckily, most of the inventory loss was covered by insurance. But even a good washing couldn’t make it marketable.
“That’s when a good friend suggested we get a group of women together, each take three or four bags of clothing home, wash it and give it to charity,” says Ellis.
“It’s making lemonade out of lemons and it really helped. One of the hardest things for me was looking at all those clothes and thinking they’d have to be thrown out.
“Now they’re going to some women who could really use them.”
About 50 large bags of clothes from Abby’s Wardrobe have been cleaned by 12 of Ellis’ family and friends. They’ll be distributed to St. Vincent de Paul and the Women’s Interval Home.
“The interval home has a lot of women who want to get back into the workforce but have nothing to wear,” said Ellis. “This is going to help them.”
She said she’s grateful for the prompt response by the Point Edward Fire & Rescue, which limited the fire to the back of the building. The blaze has been ruled accidental and the cause inconclusive.
“If the fire department had been five minutes later the place would have gone up,” said Ellis. “Their speed saved the building.”
She’s not certain what her next move will be.
Abby’s Wardrobe will remain closed at least until the New Year to give Ellis time to celebrate Christmas with family and consider her options.
“I really enjoy retail and working with women,” she said. “But something like this really beats you down.
“I haven’t decided if I will reopen.”
Meanwhile, Nicole D’Aoust-McCarthy, who operated Sew Retro on the second storey of the building has relocated to 125 Cameron St. and can be reached by calling 519-312-0123.