Williamsville, Missouri – A fire late Monday night destroyed an entire block of buildings, destroying a historic building and the small town’s only grocery store in the process.
Holmes’ store burned to the ground, and nine agencies responded to the fire call at about 9 p.m. Monday. Those crews worked for about 13 hours before leaving the place and left the shop in complete loss.
Williamsville Bruce Street Fire Chief said: “When we arrived, the fires were so advanced that we knew there was no rescue for the shop. It was a shock, seeing the store billowing in smoke and knowing what blew this up in this community.”
Street, who retired from full-time employment, actually worked in a Holmes store. Store closed Monday night.
Street said, “I couldn’t see any smoke. I saw no indication of any kind of fire or anything wrong, and at about 9:10 my fire phone in my house started ringing, and the old post office said it was burning.”
The building next door to Holmes was approximately 140 years old. It has been a bank, post office and various other things throughout its history. It was currently an apartment complex.
Sandy Joy, Mayor of Williamsville, said: “This was our city. The lifeblood of our city, and a lot of community spirit grew out of this because we all loved it. To see this devastation, it’s so hard for us.”
The city will now have to drive about 20 miles to get to the nearest grocery store. Those in cities such as Poplar Bluff, Greenville, and Piedmont.
The oldest part of the Holmes Store was built in 1893. In the early 1900s, Bob Riddle’s grandmother purchased the store from Wards and officially named it the Holmes Store.
Since then, she has remained in the Holmes family in some way until last March when she was changed.
“For me that was my family life,” Riddle said. “Our family life has revolved around that city all my life.”
At first his grandmother, then his aunt and uncle ran the store for 25 years. That aunt is Joanne Hicks, who was shocked to see so much of her life and her community in the rubble on Tuesday morning.
She raised her family there, and even passed it on to her family when it was over.
“It was amazing,” Hicks said. “People would come every morning talking, drinking coffee, and spending time sitting there visiting. It was a place to visit.”
The store has been dubbed the “Original Walmart” by many of its sponsors. It had everything a small Missouri town could need including horse feed, fishing bait, plumbing, electrical items, paint and of course groceries.
“Our biggest concern is how this will affect the town of Williamsville and the residents of Williamsville,” Riddell said. “We talked about the possibility of that happening, but we knew how much people in this area depend on us.”
And the store still allows diners to collect a fee from the store, taking care of anyone who enters.
“We’ll give them whatever they need until the end of the month, and then they can pay it, or push it, or whatever they can afford,” Hicks said.
Now the city is left trying to figure out where to go from here.
“It’s like dying, and we’re all grieving,” Mayor Sandy Joy said.