(Oct. 19, 2018) When fire broke out in the new shop, Attics of My Life, in downtown Berlin on April 23, it shut down all business and traffic on Main Street for several hours. The lingering trauma of the destruction also shut down the shop’s owner, Ashley Abell, who couldn’t work for months.
Stunned shop owners and residents gathered on the sidewalk to watch as Berlin Fire Company firefighters and responders from neighboring agencies broke open the front windows of the 11 South Main Street business.
Some firefighters went inside wearing heavy oxygen tanks, while others climbed on the roof to fight the blaze from up there.
Attics of My Life had been open for less than a month, and Abell, having heard the news from a friend, was devastated when she arrived around 9 a.m.
Later, she posted on Facebook about the experience, calling it “Gut wrenching … All the years and hard work …… gone.”
It was a different scene last Saturday in Selbyville – one of celebration, surrounded by family, friends, music and food, not to mention plenty of eager shoppers.
Abell had just reopened Attics of My Life in a new location. With her was partner in business and in life Brad Sonczewski, along with Chef Paul Suplee cooking, and a live band, appropriately enough, called “Full Circle.”
“I could cry, because I see who’s there,” Abell said. “Everybody can adore you when you’re at your best, but when you are at your worst is [different]. And they’re all here and picking me up by the bootstraps and being my biggest cheerleaders.”
Abell considered the Selbyville location briefly before moving to Berlin last spring. At the time, the space wasn’t available.
“For several months, we had been cleaning out [the old space] and we were still doing it, and then about a month ago we were driving by and a man was putting up a ‘for lease’ sign,” she said. “We just swung right in … and went in and spoke to him, surveyed it, and thought this is like the universe calling to us.
“We let our old landlord [in Berlin] know that we weren’t going to be coming back,” Abell continued. “The space wasn’t complete yet. So, we signed the lease and, in two weeks, we gutted it and transformed it.”
That included replacing heating and air-conditioning systems, installing new lighting, and renovating the old drop ceiling.
“I could see the bones,” Abell said. “And it’s kind of funny. We got that done in two weeks and [the old space] is still not done.”
She said the experience was therapeutic.
“I must say, I did not think that I would be able to do it,” she said. “I went through such a difficult time, because the day of the fire was the two-year anniversary of Dylan’s [her stepson’s] death. So, it was like a double whammy on that day.
“I went and tried to paint something for someone about a month and a half after the fire and I dropped the paint brush – I couldn’t do it. I had such bad PTSD,” Abell continued. “And then Paul was opening up Boxcar 40.”
Suplee, a long-time friend, had approached Abell about renovating his new restaurant before the fire occurred.
“I was apprehensive, but I did it because he’s my best friend,” Abell said. “And I went in there and something clicked. It revived me and exceeded me. I was back – and I was back with a vengeance. That time of not working sent me into a hunger.
“I have transformed. I have done things. I have learned about myself – learned what I want to do,” she continued, gesturing over her shoulder at the newly opened Attics of My Life.
The 3,000-square-foot interior is much larger than the Berlin location. There also is plenty of space for the heavy woodworking equipment Abell and Sonczewski use to transform reclaimed wood and old furniture into – whatever they can imagine.
“We will be able to showcase all of our reclaimed lumber and live edge, and people will be able to pick out it out like granite,” Abell said. “If they want it for a table or something – or if they’re a DIYer and want it – they will be able to see it.”
Attics of My Life is both a showcase for the unique furniture Abell and Sonczewski create, and a source for materials and tools geared toward the do-it-yourself enthusiast.
“We make the old new again. We also support artisans around the world,” Abell said. “I have people that I have met in India who shipped me over some crates of some real antique stuff that is gorgeous.”
She said other items are sourced both locally and from as far away as Africa.
“I try to support something with a cause, where the money is going to be going back for a better cause,” Abell said. “We’ll also be teaching more classes. We just have a better space.
“I would just say we are very eclectic, rustic – we are not like another store in the area,” she added.
Visit Attics of My Life on 74 West Church Street in Selbyville, Delaware.