Ipswich - The blaze that struck family-owned Ipswich News Company on Market Street in July has left the future of the business up in the air as the new year begins. While the Allen family still hopes to reopen what was commonly referred to as "the paper store," the fate of the building itself is still in question. Historic preservationists would like to see the building saved and restored, but the costs to do so would run into the hundreds of thousands.
The State Fire Marshall's Office attributed the two-alarm fire to "careless disposal of smoking materials," according to State Trooper Kevin Emmett, who was involved in the investigation along with Ipswich Police Detective Peter Dziadose and Fire Chief Arthur Howe. The investigation was completed in early September.
According to Emmett, there were two employees at the store when the fire began. One employee was on a smoke break and another had just arrived to begin a work shift. Emmett said they were smoking outside the building on the back porch.
While the Fire Department battled the blaze, many local residents and passersby captured the event in photos.
In the end, the back of the building was open and charred and the apartment above was destroyed. The front of the building was still intact but smoke had destroyed everything in Ipswich News and in Shinings, the boutique next door. Investigators immediately declared the building unsuitable for occupancy. Fortunately, the fire did not spread to other buildings.
John Allen, who lived in the apartment with his two daughters, lost everything, including all of the sports equipment he had accumulated over many years of coaching softball. Neither he nor his daughters were home at the time of the fire.
According to Chief Howe, beginning this year, Mass. retailers will only be able to sell fire safe cigarettes, which when left unattended will self extinguish.
After the fire, the community immediately began efforts to help the Allens, whose family had owned the shop for 75 years. A fundraiser was held at Castle Hill and friends of the family opened the Allen Family Fire Fund at the Institution For Savings.
To the community, the loss was much more than just about having to go someplace else to get your paper. Ipswich News was a hub. As Community Newspaper Company Managing Editor Janet Mackay-Smith said in a column shortly after the fire: "...I came to see that the paper store was more than just a place to buy a newspaper. It was also a depot of sorts for information of all kinds. If there was news to be heard, you could hear it there. If you didn't here it there it hadn't happened yet."
The Historical Commission will hold a special hearing on the building Monday, Jan. 7 at 7 p.m. in the Mary P. Conley at Town Hall.