Susan Preston stands outside the old Dundas Post Office where she plans to re-open the Village Bakery. Photo by Sheryl Nadler
Monday, 25 July 2011
Village Bakery will be reborn in old Dundas Post Office
It’s not easy to say you’ve found a win-win deal in the detritus of a fire that gutted your business and torched your soul.
But after nearly 18 months of anguish, Susan Preston says the light at the end of her personal tunnel is no longer lit by the memory of flames that raced through her business – The Village Bakery – in the heart of Dundas, just after New Year’s last year.
“I do feel like a Phoenix rising from the ashes,” Preston said over coffee this week as she contemplated her rebounding business. She expects to be back baking in a grand new setting this summer at the restored Dundas Post Office building, on King Street in the centre of town.
“It’s exciting, a win-win. I’ll be back in business and part of a project that is restoring a wonderful old building. That feels good.”
She’s buoyant, a far cry from the despondency which cloaked her for much of last year.
“It felt like a death, very difficult. There were times I didn’t want to go out because I knew people would ask about the fire and I would have to relive it. I broke out in hives, too.”
Preston, 60, wasn’t new to tough challenges, by the way. She raised four children as a single mom, keeping the household humming by juggling several jobs.
“But I’d never faced anything like this. I’m a goer, but things dragged on.”
That included an insurance settlement that left her substantially shy of what’s needed to replace bakery equipment.
But if the devil was in those details, angels abounded.
“The outpouring of support was wonderful,” she says, citing fellow Dundas merchants, the Dundas BIA and a Facebook group called The Friends of Village Bakery, which is closing in on 1,100 members.
And then the folks at St. Paul’s United Church offered their big kitchen to her so she could get back to her passion and serve some of the customers she’d developed at the 65 King Street location.
Her new bakery will be about half the size of the previous space and it is a bit off the core shopping area, but she gushes about totally new electrical service (electrical was the cause of that fire) and the possibility of a small patio out front of the imposing post office building.
She’ll set up there on King during Buskerfest, June 3-5, in her 1950 Ford pickup, dispensing cakes and cookies. And she expects to be back at the Dundas Farmer’s Market, which opens June 16, 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Preston’s lease begins July 1 at the post office building; she’s aiming at Aug. 1 to be open, but allows early September might be the realistic re-opening of her business.
The 98-year-old building is being developed by LM Enterprises. Calls to the company went unanswered Wednesday.
The post office was built in 1913 and has a Romanesque façade that
is dominated by the 100-foot-high Venetian clock tower, a history of
downtown Dundas says. Each clock face is six feet in diameter. The
clock, which has not operated in years, was manufactured in and
shipped from England.
The building was almost demolished in 1973, but public pressure
saved it. Now it is reborn, just like Susan Preston’s Valley Bakery.
Many thanks to John Kernaghan for the permission to use his OpenFile article.
Dundas baker still recovering from fire
BAKERY. Susan Preston is baking out of the basement of St. Paul's United Church after a fire destroyed her downtown Dundas bakery almost a year ago. Cathie Coward/The Hamilton Spectator Source: The Hamilton Spectator
There’s a heavenly smell coming from St. Paul’s United Church in Dundas.
In the downstairs kitchen, Susan Preston and her crew are busying baking short bread and icing sugar cookies. It’s an unlikely temporary home for The Village Bakery and not where Preston thought she would be a year after a fire destroyed her well-loved Dundas fixture.
“It’s been a rough year,” concedes Preston with a weary smile. “We’ve certainly changed venues.”
It was just after the new year on a busy Saturday morning when lights on the bakery’s Christmas tree shorted out and sparked a blaze that destroyed the King Street West building. The community rallied around Preston and her staff in the fire’s aftermath, organizing fundraisers and vowing to help rebuild the bakery.
“The support has been unbelievable,” says Preston. “For that reason I’ve held on.”
Recovering from the fire, financially and emotionally, has been harder than Preston expected. She’s tried to find a new location, but rental space is at a premium in downtown Dundas and the right spot hasn’t come available. Her old location is still boarded up, but Preston doesn’t want to return because of the bad memory. She’s had offers to move to Ancaster and Burlington, but wants to stay in Dundas.
“I’m very loyal to the people,” she said, noting there is no way she can ever repay the generosity and kindness she’s been shown since the fire.
In the summer, old customers suggested Preston start selling at the Dundas Farmers’ Market. She loved the idea, but explained she wasn’t allowed under regulations to bake out of her own kitchen. She started calling local churches, which eventually lead her to rent St. Paul’s kitchen. When the market shut down for the season, the church agreed to let Preston sell her goods twice a week out of its recreation room.
The agreement has been popular with the congregation, many of whom were old customers of the bakery.
“It sells itself,” says St. Paul’s operations manager Deanna Comeau. “People say when they walk in ‘Oh it smells so good.’”
Even the church ladies have welcomed Preston into their kitchen, which is remarkable, jokes minister Rick Spies.
So far, Preston has counted on word of mouth to publicize her temporary home. She’s open Saturday and Wednesday and Thursday next week from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sales are a mere 5 per cent of what the Village Bakery would sell in the days before Christmas.
Most customers exclaim, “Oh we found you,” as they enter. Maureen Steuart has been buying Preston’s sweets almost weekly for a decade. She’s followed the bakery through two locations, the market and now to the church.
Every one of her children’s birthday cakes were made by the bakery and Preston’s iced cookies are a Christmas tradition, said Steuart, who was heartbroken by the fire.
“It was a real loss. It was a meeting place.”
Preston is hopeful she’ll have permanent home soon. She has her eye on the old Dundas post office and is waiting to hear back from the owner.
“It looks very promising.”
December 18, 2010
Many thanks to Nicole MacIntyre and the Hamilton Spectator for the permission to use this article.
No one was injured when a popular Dundas bakery in a century-old downtown building was destroyed by fire Saturday morning.
102-year-old building damaged by fire
Popular bakery destroyed after blaze caused by Christmas tree lights
Published on Jan 04, 2010
Susan Preston, owner of the award winning Village Bakery at 65 King St. W, posted a message on her personal Facebook page for concerned friends and customers only hours after fire caused by the electrical short of a Christmas tree light in the bakery forced 10 customers, staff and upstairs tenants out of the building Saturday morning.
A Facebook page has also been created to show support for Village Bakery owner Sue Preston
and her staff.
Firefighters were able to limit the fire to just the bakery, with some smoke and water damage to upstairs apartments and adjoining buildings – in a downtown core filled with old structures.
There was an immediate outpouring of community concern for the local business owner and hope the structure can be repaired and the bakery soon reopened.
Preston’s Facebook post described herself as “devastated” but “safe and surrounded by family and good friends.
“Thank you to everyone and all your kind wishes! Tomorrow has to be better!! My heart goes out to those that didn't have their own bed to sleep in tonight and those that didn't get their birthday cakes! Even the bread was hot today,” Preston wrote.
Firefighters responded to the report of a Christmas tree on fire in the Village Bakery at 10:30 a.m. All 10 customers in the bakery and tenants of three upstairs apartments were safely evacuated.
See youtube video.
See Multimedia Slideshow.
Damage was estimated between $750,000 and $1-million.
The structure at 65 King St. W. was originally a one story wood frame building owned by Ancaster farmer William Ferrie in the 19th Century. By 1909, William Armstrong owned the building and reconstructed it into a two storey brick structure while the neighbouring buildings were still wood frame.
By 1912, all the buildings were brick, and were owned by lawyer W.E.S. Knowles and two merchants.
Among the features noted in a 1994 Town of Dundas heritage survey of 65 King St. W. was a decorative tin ceiling. The building did not have a heritage designation but is included in the City of Hamilton’s buildings of historical or architectural interest.
Check the Dundas Star News website and print edition on Friday, Jan. 8 for ongoing updates on the Village Bakery fire and the local businesses’ future.
Many thanks to the Dundas Star News for the permission to use this article.
Many thanks to the Dundas Star News for the permission to use this article.