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Shop gutted by '97 fire reopening Christmas Spirit was closed Dec. 9 by five-alarm blaze; Main Street fixture; Business to resume today, in time for Midnight Madness


A Christmas store gutted during the five-alarm Main Street blaze in Annapolis last year will reopen today, closing a symbolic wound that area merchants and residents say the fire left behind.

Christmas Spirit, which sells seasonal decorations, is the first store affected by the Dec. 9 fire to reopen. Scott Chappelear, who owns the store with his wife, said he will open his doors after city inspectors check the plumbing at 9: 30 a.m.

The opening will be "symbolic that we've all recovered from the fire," said Cynthia McBride, a member of the board of directors of the Annapolis Chamber of Commerce. "I've had people tell me, 'The minute he opens his doors, I'm going to walk in there and buy something.' "

The store, in a three-story structure at 180 Main St. built in 1885, was ruined when a fire that began in the kitchen of an Indian restaurant next door spread rapidly to become the city's first five-alarm fire in 10 years.

The building at 184 Main St., which housed India Palace, and an adjacent structure at 5-7 State Circle, were gutted. Remains of the connected buildings were torn down in August.

Marjorie Burns, manager of Christmas Spirit, said they had planned to reopen in October, but the renovation took longer than expected. Chappelear said the fire destroyed the roof and damaged several rooms. Reconstruction was finished a few weeks ago, and the move back into the building was begun the day before Thanksgiving, he said.

"I just can't wait," said Chappelear, who estimated that he and his wife lost about $100,000 in income from being closed for a year. He said they relocated temporarily to a warehouse in a nearby industrial park and have relied on other Christmas Spirit stores in Washington and Ocean City for income.

Chappelear said he, his wife their staff of about five and their two teen-age sons have been working 15-hour days to prepare to open in time for Midnight Madness tonight, when Main Street businesses stay open late for shoppers.

"I'd really hate to miss" Midnight Madness, he said. "I've hated missing all that I've missed so far."

Annapolitans said they have missed the store, too. City spokesman Thomas W. Roskelly, a regular Christmas Spirit patron, said, "It has a spot in the heart of a lot of Annapolitans," adding that city inspectors worked with contractors to ensure that the building renovations went smoothly. "Believe me, everybody's pulled together for this one."

Yesterday, as Chappelear, Burns and other staff ran up and down the stairs of the pine-scented store, frantically carrying and unpacking boxes of ornaments, more than the occasional passer-by popped in to ask if the shop was open.

"My mom just loves this store," said Robyn Macey, a 15-year-old Annapolitan who was disappointed that she couldn't buy her mother's Christmas gift at the store. "She likes everything about Christmas, and she collects the Dickens Village stuff that they have in there. She likes going in there just to look at stuff."

Burns, who has worked at Christmas Spirit for 21 years, said she looks forward to reopening because she has missed the customers. She said she was in the store the night of the fire but got out when someone ran in to tell her about the blaze.

"It was surreal," Burns said. "It was like I was losing my own home because I spend so much time here. Once we open and all the customers start coming back in, it'll be back to normal. It won't be like it was, but it will be better -- hopefully."

Pub Date: 12/03/98

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