Bittners’ antiques shop on Chester Main Street burns down


By Karen Zuppinger

A street view of the damage to Yankee Ingenuity antiques shop on Main Street in Chester. Photos by Karen Zuppinger.

A street view of the damage to Yankee Ingenuity antiques shop on Main Street in Chester. Click photo to enlarge. Photos by Karen Zuppinger.

Around 12:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Jan.14, George and Mary Bittner were awakened by the urgent ringing of the doorbell. The Bittners, owners of the Yankee Ingenuity antiques barn, at 389 Main St. in Chester, found a stranger before them alerting them to the fact that their shop was burning down less than 80 feet away.

By the time Mary Bittner got off the phone with 911, the man and his tractor trailer truck were gone.

According to Chester Fire Chief Matthew Wilson, the call to 911 came in around 12:40 a.m., and Chester fire trucks were on the scene in about  three minutes.

Mary Bittner said on Tuesday that because the fire spread from an outside propane tank into the walls then up into the roof, where it became trapped, firefighters had to wait for it to “essentially burn out” before they could fully extinguish it. “It must have been over three and half hours they were here fighting the fire,” Bittner said.

View from the side of the shop, where the propane tank sits.

View from the side of the shop, where the propane tank sits.

According to the Chester Fire Department, it took about 45 firefighters slightly more than four hours to put out the blaze. Aiding Chester were emergency crews from Grafton, Proctorsville, Rockingham, Springfield, Bellows Falls and Charlestown, N.H. The Chester Ambulance Service was hand for the safety of the firefighters.

The Bittner family had originally set up shop at the Main Street location almost 50 years ago when George Bittner’s father Jack “JP” Bittner would hold auctions and sell merchandise out of the large barn in the field behind the house. George and Mary opened the shop at its current location in 2008, converting their 1920s garage into a brick and mortar location that supplements their eBay business and road show booth set-ups.

The couple still has to go through the debris — soggy first from the fire hoses and now from a steady rain — before they can come up with an estimate of the financial loss. They also are assessing whether to rebuild. “We still have so much to think about,” says Mary Bittner. “We’ll just have to take some time to decide what we want to do.”

Chief Wilson says the investigation seems suspicious and asks that anyone with information to contact him at 802- 875-2035 or phone the Arson Line at 1-800-32-ARSON. Information can also be given through VT State Police Fire Investigator Steve Otis at the Rockingham Barracks, 802-875-2112.

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About the Author: Karen Zuppinger in a freelance writer and Chester resident. Her work has appeared in Vermont Magazine and Assisi's Online Journal of Arts and Letters. She is a winner of America's Best Short Fiction Award.

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  1. Heather says:

    So sad…