Minnesota Fire Destroys Store

When their father, Leonard, died, Linda and Lori Vainik vowed to him that they would carry on the family business.

The business that was their dad's life -- and 59 years of family memories -- went up in smoke Thursday.

Virginia Boat 5th Avenue, a well-known sporting and outdoor goods store in downtown Virginia, was destroyed by fire.

The Virginia Public Library, its north wall in some places separated from the sporting goods store by about a foot, suffered substantial smoke damage.

The library, which had smoke seeping from its windows as firefighters from three cities battled the blaze, could be closed for an extended period.

"There's lots of smoke damage," said John Tourville, Virginia city operations director. "It doesn't look good at this time. I can't imagine it being open in the next 30 days."

The library has about 90,000 books, 30 computers, 3,000 videos and 400 DVDs.

Virginia officials will meet at City Hall this morning with a restoration company and library Director Nancy Maxwell to determine a course of action.

"It was so hot in there, they apparently had to cut a hole in the roof," Maxwell said. "The spot where they cut it was right about where we have four computers for the public and above our media department, where we have DVDs and videos."

Firefighters actually removed a skylight to release some of the heat, said Jim Theodore of the Virginia Fire Department.

A neighboring house and Greiner's Troy, an alteration and shoe repair shop, also suffered damage.

"We grew up there... it was our home," Linda Vainik said as she choked back emotions while across the street from the smoking and flaming brick building. "We told our dad we would keep his namesake going. I don't know what to say. I can't think right now."

Chuck Pottsmith, a longtime Virginia resident and well-known photographer who knew Leonard Vainik, stood on a sidewalk with a crowd of about 200 and watched a piece of city history disintegrate.

"I did a little shopping there from time to time," said Pottsmith. "Leonard used to have a watchdog in there that would scare the heck out of you when you walked in the door."

In a few hours, the fire ended a long piece of Virginia history, Pottsmith said.

Vainik said she discovered the fire in a balcony near an office space. Using a cordless phone, she tried to call 911, but couldn't get through.

"The smoke detector went off," Vainik said. "I grabbed the dog and got out."

Later, she realized that the base for the phone was in the office near where the fire apparently broke out.

The fire was called in about 11 a.m., Theodore said. Virginia firefighters who arrived at the scene reported an interior structure fire.

At 11:08 a.m., Virginia called for assistance from fire departments from Eveleth, Mountain Iron, Fayal Township, Gilbert, Biwabik and McDavitt.

The aged brick structure, which had upstairs apartments, is a total loss.

Thick smoke from the fire drifted north, away from the library.

Patrons were evacuated and the library was closed.

Smoke that could be seen for miles entered the library through ventilation systems. Intense heat and smoke stained library windows.

"By the time I got out of there, yellow smoke was billowing up the stairwell (from a lower library level)," said Debbie Judnick, library media assistant. "It was bad. We are going to have a lot of damage in there."

The library lost nine part-time employees last year because of city budget cuts.

The extent of damage to books, artwork and computers is unknown.

"We can't imagine us going back in there any time quickly," Judnick said. "We didn't need this."

Leonard Vainik and his late wife, Lois, operated the sporting goods store.

Over the years, the store carried a wide range of sporting and outdoor goods, including clothing, bows and arrows, boats, swimming gear, camping goods, outdoor footwear, and cameras and darkroom equipment.

In the 1920s, an auto supply store operated at the site. In 1948, it became Virginia Boat and Sporting equipment, according to the Virginia Area Historical Society.

Distributed by the Associated Press

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