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Fire damages The Book Thing in Baltimore

Posted at 9:31 AM, Mar 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-03 06:12:13-05

It was a place to drop off used books or pick up something new to read for free, now The Book Thing in Baltimore needs to be rebuilt after an early morning fire Wednesday left the donation-based bookstore severely damaged.

At 5:15 a.m., fire crews were called to the 3000 block of Vineyard Lane for reports of a building fire. Crews arrived to find smoke coming from a one-story brick building, and went in to extinguish a fire coming from the inside rear of the building. There were no civilian or firefighter injuries, according to the Baltimore City Fire Department.

“It's sad. We don't know if it was purposely set or whether this was an accidental fire, but it's a lot of work by a lot of people that just went up in smoke,” said Russell Wattenberg, owner of The Book Thing.

Wattenberg never thought he'd read this chapter of his life. The business he spent 17 years building, was on fire. More than 200 thousand books lined the shelves, now the words are gone, the pages charred and scattered on the burned floor.

“A lot of books are damaged, just ruined from the water from the smoke from the fire,” Wattenberg said.

His plan right now is to rebuild, but Wattenberg said it's too soon to say if that means rebuilding in North Baltimore or finding a new location.

Kate Drabinski lives right around the corner from The Book Thing. She said when she moved to Baltimore five years ago The Book Thing was one of the first places she was told to visit.

“The thing that we all have in common is that we love books and ideas and reading and we get to do it together here. It’s a real loss, but I know that we will figure out how to rebuild it. We’ll come together to rebuild it, I'm sure,” Drabinski said.

The Book Thing was a community meeting place where neighbors came together to catch-up, now it needs the community more than ever.

“There is virtually nothing like that in the world that we just share as a community and it's just so sad to think that it's gone and how much work it will take to rebuild it,” Drabinski said.

Wattenberg plans to post updates on the future of the store on their website. He also said that they can't take book donations because they just have nowhere to put them.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

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