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Beattyville rebuilds after August fire

BEATTYVILLE — Four months after fire gutted a busy block of Main Street, downtown businesses in this Eastern Kentucky city are rebuilding or have relocated in town.

Jack Gross, co-owner of Jack's IGA, is rebuilding on the spot where fire consumed his old store. Block walls were up by late November, and Gross hopes to open the new store by April 1.

"I think people will be real satisfied with what we're going to end up with," Gross said.

He said he and his wife, Fonda, have appreciated the support expressed by Lee County residents.

"Probably the first month after the fire, just their kind words were really so supportive and really carried us," Gross said.

The Aug. 13 blaze destroyed the grocery, Rose Bros. department store and the office of The Beattyville Enterprise, a weekly newspaper. Only the post office on the western end of the block escaped serious damage.

Investigators determined the fire started in a refrigerator compressor in the grocery and spread to the neighboring businesses.

The new IGA store will have nearly 18,000 square feet, about 1,000 more square feet than the old store, Gross said. The new store will have a deli that will sell sandwiches, salads and cakes.

Meanwhile, Rose Bros., a clothing and shoe retailer, has relocated to a rented space on Railroad Street on the city's west side.

"We're a little bit off the beaten path here, and it's taken everybody a little while to find us, but we're doing OK," manager Lucille Lumpkins said. The Jackson-based retailer plans to rebuild in Beattyville, she said.

The newspaper has relocated to a second-floor space in the Congleton Building on Main Street.

After the fire, "the community was justifiably and understandably distraught for some period of time, and Main Street traffic was virtually non-existent," said Edmund Shelby, editor of the paper. "But we've seen an increase in activity. More money is being spent. There's an up-tick now, there's a more positive attitude, and everybody knows that the community is coming back."

Lisa Stamper, executive director of the Downtown Beattyville Alliance, said she senses more cooperation among residents. She noted how the alliance, the Beatty ville Kiwanis Club and Beatty ville-Lee County Chamber of Commerce came together to sponsor a full day of downtown activities Dec. 5.

"I can't say that the fire brought that together, but there may be more of a community spirit now," Stamper said.

More improvements are coming to downtown. Beattyville is in the midst of a project to replace lighting, sidewalks and drainage along Main Street. On the day of the fire, city officials received word that they had been awarded $600,000 in federal money, which extended that project to the end of the street where the fire happened, said Stamper, who is also the city's manager for Main Street revitalization.

That work should be completed in late 2010.

In addition, Beattyville Mayor Joe Kash said city officials are working to improve its firefighting capabilities. The city has applied for about $650,000 from the Appalachian Regional Commission to install a new water line on the city's south side.

"That way, if we have another huge fire like this and we have so many fire trucks pulling off one line, it won't disturb water service for the whole town," Kash said. Water pressure was so low during the August fire that city residents had to temporarily boil water before drinking it.

Gross, 57, said the full effect of the community's loss didn't hit him until he made a visit to Beattyville Elementary School.

One day his 6-year-old grandson, Nicholas, needed money for lunch, so Gross went to the school to take it to him.

"I happened to be in the lunchroom, and the little kids, seven or eight of them, got up and just came over and hugged me," Gross said. "And one of them says, 'I'm sorry your store fell down.'

"That was one of the better moments."