Van-Atkins owners to rebuild

By Errol Castens

Daily Journal

NEW ALBANY - The hole left in New Albany's downtown by Monday morning's fiery destruction of Van-Atkins Department Store will be a temporary one, says the family that owned the retail landmark.

"We're going to rebuild something," said Chuck Cooper. "It may not be exactly what we had before, but we're going to do something there."

The family business faced a similar crisis six years ago when their Amory store burned, and they rebuilt on the same spot.

"We're happy with the decision we made then," he said.

Cooper and other family members have spent most of their waking hours since the fire going through the still-smoldering rubble, looking to salvage anything they could.

"We lost a lot of personal items, but we found some others," he said. Recovered items include some photo negatives and coin collections, he said, but most of the mementos his father, Warren Cooper, collected during World War II were lost.

Broad impact

The fire's impact and the "almost" impacts were still on a lot of people's minds Wednesday.

"Chuck was fixing to put his key in the door," said Eddie Prescott, who owns Bill Winders Hardware across the street. "He was just twenty feet from the front door when it blew out."

While fellow downtown merchants this week endure a stream of sightseers taking in the disaster, they will probably miss the shopping traffic formerly generated by the store.

"We gave the men someplace to come while the women were shopping there," said Bill Prescott, who also works at Bill Winders Hardware.

Van-Atkins leaves a hole for New Albany's shoppers, too.

"There's nowhere else you could go to buy a man's suit," said Margie Koon, who worked in the store's menswear department. "Many times we had people come in to get a suit for a funeral, and we always worked hard to get it altered in time."

Koon said she will miss the job until the store is rebuilt.

"They were really good people to work for," she said.

New Albany Fire Chief William Douell spent most of Tuesday with investigators from the State Fire Marshal's Office trying to determine the cause of the blaze.

Fire cause unknown

Because of the instability of the gutted building's brick walls, officials had ordered their destruction on Monday as soon as the fire allowed a track hoe on the site. The collapsed rubble made investigation, often difficult in the aftermath of a fire, even less conclusive than usual.

"We didn't come up with a cause of the fire," Douell said. He reiterated, though, that foul play was not suspected.

"It was not arson."

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