When Sandy hit our area on Monday afternoon, October 29, the winds picked up in strange ways. Mark Hedrick, who founded his Woodstock Emporium/Holiday Haus shop on Mill Hill Road out front of Maria’s Bazar in October of 1996, decided to close up shop and head home around 1:30 p.m.
Maria Nardi, who owns the complex of brick storefronts and back building, where her own popular Maria’s Bazaar take-out business and restaurant is, says she started noticing how a tree on the west side of her property, towards the road, was bending forward in strange ways. Some shingles started flying off the roof of her neighbor, Landau Grill. And something seemed wrong with the gutters on the building directly in front of her.
“I got a call from my landlady about 5:30 informing me that the roof had blown off the shop,” Hedrick later recounted. “It took them a couple hours to locate my phone number after the roof had actually lifted off sometime between 1:30 and 3 p.m. One witness watched as the roof was lifted and ripped off when the storm winds came directly out of the north and tore the entire roof off like it was tissue paper.”
By the time Hedwig got to his shop — which specializes in Christmas ornaments as well as the usual tourist tee-shirt fare, and was about to enter its busiest selling season — heavy rains had started in.
“I could see the entire roof membrane had been tossed over the front the building leaving the entire store roof open to the elements. After it became evident that I was not going to get any help covering the roof, me and my friend Ken Jones began boxing and bagging the store inventory in an attempt to salvage as much as we could,” Hedwig continued a week after the deluge, having headed out to Ohio to spend some time with family and recover from all that had occurred. “We had to do all of this with just a couple of flashlights since the power in the village was also out. The rains started pouring in through the plaster ceiling…”
Kevin Christofora, owner of Woodstock Meats, showed up with his two sons and an assistant to help move the Holiday Haus stock into Sparkle, the store located next door, as well as an adjacent garage on the property, back behind Maria’s.
Maria recalled, this past week, how her son-in-law had spent time, before she reached Hedrick, up on the roof, seeing if he could provide some cover. With the winds picking up, however, she yelled for him to come down.
“It was better that no one die than there be damage to a building,” she said. “It was real bad…we were losing shingles too. It was dangerous.”
“We worked several hours in the rain before having to abandon our efforts since the ceilings were beginning to crumble into the interior space,” Hedrick continued about his own attempts to salvage his store of 17 years. “It was pretty ugly…I’d gotten all set up for the holidays. It was like losing a child…”
Hopes to return
But three days later, on November 1, Hedwig came out in costume with his dog, Max, to hand out candy for the trick-or-treaters making their way up Mill Hill Road for the town’s postponed-by-a-day Halloween parade.
“I decided to put my agony on a back shelf, dress up and come out to do my part for the kids and participate in the beggar’s night that the Woodstock Chamber sponsors each year,” he wrote in a later e-mail from Ohio. “I already had the candy (at home) and figured me and Max (my beagle, who is a big part of my shop…he greets my customers and hangs out with the kids who come shopping with their parents) would come out and benefit from the smiles and laughter after two miserable days of heartache. You will notice the closed sign behind my head and the water dripping down the interior of the glass behind me. A lot of people who have come to my Christmas shop over the years were upset to see the shop in shambles, but were very supportive and the well-wishes from so many that evening really helped.”
Before leaving town, Hedwig — who opened his shop after its previous tenant, Rare Bear, moved up to Tinker Street after ten years there — cleaned out the space inside and put a sign in the window explaining his closure, implying his heartbreak, and hopes to return in the new year, within it.
He has since been wrangling with insurance agents…as are the Nardis, who own the property. He quickly realized he wouldn’t be able to re-open for the holidays, and the town’s upcoming December 7 Open House, no matter whether he got the place back in order. He couldn’t replace his lost merchandise, much of it built up over the years, in time.
“The entire interior of the shop was soaked through and will have to be gutted and rebuilt. Mold and mildew were already an issue the day after the storm, so it will be at least a few months before it can all be cleaned up, the interior is rebuilt to code, and even longer to rebuild the fixtures and restock in order to reopen the shop so long as my lease is renewed,” Hedwig wrote. “This would have been my 17th Christmas season as a year-round Christmas shop.”
Earlier, I tell the shop-owner, calls had come in about his plight…from neighboring businesses and parents who’d spoken with him while trick-or-treating with their kids on November 1.
“It was such a loss, and so strange of one,” said one woman who called, asking for anonymity. “Sparkle, in the same building (but with a separate roof) wasn’t touched.”
She paused and then added, “If ever there was a true Frank Capra sort of Woodstock community story, this one may be it.”
Which means, Hedrick later added, that some sort of true Capra-like ending, beyond insurers and leases, may be in call.
To reach Mark Hedwig, e-mail [email protected]. And give him a shout of support come the Open House on December 7.