by Lisa Hinton-Valdrighi
KILMARNOCK—The outlook of business owner Maxie Gordon Wilson is that material possessions can be replaced.
“This person that lost his life is bigger than me and my problems. My heart just hurts for his family,” she said.
A fire that ripped through a block of buildings on Irvington Road in Kilmarnock early in the morning April 19 damaged Wilson’s men’s clothing store, The Jeanery. It was one of five on that block either destroyed or damaged in the blaze. Seven apartments were also destroyed or damaged, displacing several residents.
One person died in the fire. The victim is believed to be Stacey L. Kellum, who lived in an upstairs apartment at the rear of the complex. Remains have been sent to the state medical examiner’s office in Richmond but a positive identification hasn’t been made, according to Lancaster County Sheriff Patrick McCranie. However, Kellum’s family has released social media posts identifying him as the victim. A memorial with flowers, balloons and photos has been erected on a security fence along Augusta Street. Several funds have been established to help the family with expenses.
“He was a father, a grandfather, a son, a brother, a nephew, a cousin, a friend—a shining light to us all,” reads the post by Kellum’s sister-in-law Louise Kellum. “In the wake of this tragedy, our family is grasping for answers and reeling through this nightmare.”
The fire, which was reported about 3:40 a.m. April 19, quickly spread through the apartments and portions of the commercial area of the buildings. It took volunteer fire departments from Kilmarnock, White Stone, Upper Lancaster and Fairfields nearly five hours to fully contain it. A resident was awakened by fire in his apartment, wrapped himself in a blanket to make his way out and then knocked on others’ doors to alert them, according to Kilmarnock Volunteer Fire Department Chief Roy Hall.
“He saved a lot of people,” said Hall.
Although there is no official word on what started the blaze, the fire appears to have been accidental, according to Sheriff McCranie.
“We are awaiting final results from the investigation,” he said. “But we are almost certain it was accidental. A K-9 unit from Chesterfield that specializes in accelerants did not detect anything.”
Loss of livelihood
The block was home to multiple long-established businesses, including Lester’s Barber Shop.
Husband and wife, Lester and Sue Brent, were on site this week, clearing out any items that could be salvaged.
“I feel so sorry for [Lester],” said S. Brent. “He’s miserable, just doesn’t know what to do with himself. That barbershop is just all he cares about.”
The 85-year-old barber has been in the shop since 1975 and cutting men’s hair even longer.
“Six days a week that’s what he did. Even when the government told him to close [during the pandemic], he went up there every day,” said S. Brent.
Danielle Newman, owner of Brews & Crews in White Stone, generously offered Lester a chair in her shop where he could still serve his “regulars.” S. Brent says he’ll most likely decline.
“That was so sweet of her. But he’d be out of his environment. And he has everything where he wants it to be. I’ve been helping him since the pandemic and if I’d move something, he’d say put that back.
“His customers have been so nice, they’re calling and coming over,” she said.
Stephanie Surber’s customers at C&D Music have been equally as generous and supportive. The music store has operated in some form in Kilmarnock for more than 40 years.
“I was 12 when I first went in there when it was Doc’s,” said Surber.
The former Doc’s Records became C&D’s in 1986 and after over 35 years working and managing there, Surber bought the store in 2010.
“I was standing there watching all of it happen,” the morning of the fire, said Surber. “I was watching the fire jump from the roof to my building and watched the firemen kick the door down. And all I could think was I have a key. It was unreal.”
Surber said since last week’s fire, many of her customers have reached out.
“I had one customer who’d bought a tapestry from me and hadn’t taken it out of the package yet. She said she wanted to give it back to me because it smells like my store.”
Surber said although she lost everything—“absolutely nothing, nothing, nothing is salvageable”—she wants to reopen, and hopefully on that block.
“I’m established where I am and there’s nowhere my store will survive but here,” she said.
C&D’s was a music and what-not shop with everything from hair dye to tee shirts, tapestries and incense. She estimates she lost hundreds and hundreds of albums, including several that were unopened originals. One Pearl Jam album alone was valued at $500.
“Everyday I remember something different in there that makes me sad. I carried a lot of items that people made. The personal stuff that was lost. It’s so, so sad,” she said.
But, of course, she also lost a dear friend in Kellum.
“Stacey has been there probably as long as my store has and to see somebody every single day, it’s very heartbreaking,” she said.
Surber added that the community support has been overwhelming. “This is one of the greatest communities, just the outpouring of love. This is where I’m gonna cry. It gives me hope.”
Wilson celebrated The Jeanery’s 26th year in business on March 31. She was still trying to process what happened a week after the fire as she, friends and family salvaged what they could from her store. Everything was damaged somehow by smoke or water but some of the inventory can be washed and cleaned. Her actual store was spared of too much fire damage.
“It was nothing but amazing,” she said. “It seemed like the fire stopped right there at the back wall.”
A friend called Wilson a little after 4 a.m. on the day of the fire and she arrived about 4:30 a.m.
“I stayed a couple of hours but after that I couldn’t watch anymore,” she said.
She hopes to also reopen. Meanwhile, she will have a pop-up location at Domino’s on Church Street from noon-5 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. It will serve as a contact location for customers who already have prom or wedding tuxedo orders in place.
For now, NNBurger owner Jay Wolfson encourages his customers to patronize his Tappahannock store, where several of his Kilmarnock employees will be working.
Wolfson said he also hopes to reopen in Kilmarnock.
“At the moment, we’re gathering information and trying to come up with a plan,” he said. “We absolutely love our community here and we’d like to reopen in Kilmarnock.
“The outreach has just been incredible from the community. They’ve helped with my staff. We’ve had overwhelming support from everybody,” said Wolfson.
He opened NNBurger in Kilmarnock in December 2013.
Barkley’s Boutique, a pet supply store, was the new business on the block and opened in November 2021.
Owner Caroline Sullivan said she also plans to reopen her shop.
Calls made to the owner of the property on Irvington Road were not returned by press time Wednesday.
Multiple fundraisers, sponsored by the town, businesses and non-profits, are ongoing to support both the businesses and the residents who were displaced. (See related story)
“I have great faith everything happens for a reason,” said Wilson. “I haven’t figured it out yet, why this happened, but I think it’s already figured out for us. God has a plan.”
How to help: Community fire relief efforts
There are multiple fundraising efforts in place to help both the businesses and the displaced residents as a result of the April 19 fire on Irvington Road in Kilmarnock.
Several local business owners have set up promotions within their stores, while Dream Fields also held a fundraising event at the park this week.
These are the major fundraising campaigns established:
• Memorial account. The family of Stacey Kellum, who is believed to have perished in the fire, has established a GoFundMe memorial account.
According to a statement released by the family, “The community is welcome to come pay their respects to our beloved Stacey Kellum on Augusta Street in Kilmarnock. For those interested in donating to the family to help cover funeral costs and other expenses, we have established a memorial account at Chesapeake Bank. Thank you all for your support, love, and continued prayers.”
Donations may be made at GoFundMe, https://gofund.me/84a6353d.
• Kilmarnock Fire Relief fund. The Town of Kilmarnock and River Counties Community Foundation have established the Kilmarnock Fire Relief fund to help those residents displaced by the fire.
How to help:
Financial donations may be made directly to River Counties Community Foundation with “Kilmarnock Fire Relief” in the memo line. Send checks to: River Counties Community Foundation, P.O. Box 54, White Stone, VA 22578; or go to rivercountiescf.org.
Lancaster County Department of Social Services is accepting donated gift cards. List the amount on the card.
Purchase a #kilmarnockstrong t-shirt from Horn’s Ace Hardware on School Street or The Rivah on Main Street. Proceeds will go to the victims of the Kilmarnock fire.
• Kilmarnock Rebuild campaign. The Town of Kilmarnock, in partnership with Blue Ridge Bank, has established Kilmarnock Rebuild in support of the businesses displaced by the fire. This pool of funds will be shared equally by the damaged businesses to assist them with restarting and moving forward.
Donations may be made to “Kilmarnock Rebuild.” Checks should be dropped at Blue Ridge Bank branches in Kilmarnock, White Stone, Callao, Montross, Warsaw and Hartfield; or mailed to Blue Ridge Bank, P.O. Box 1869, Kilmarnock, VA 22482 Attn: William Smith, Kilmarnock Rebuild.