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Fire department officials rope off a section of Chestnut Street in Virginia after a wall of the Northland Building collapsed during an explosion and caused damage to the backs of several downtown businesses.

VIRGINIA — At 11:15 a.m. Wednesday, it was business as usual on Chestnut Street in Virginia — until it wasn’t.

“There was a power surge,” said Rudy Harvey an hour after the incident. “The building shook. We lost power and internet for a while.”

Harvey is the executive director of the Virginia Community Foundation, which recently relocated to 303 Chestnut Street, the former home of Silver Lake Floral. What occurred resulted in more than just a temporary loss of power for businesses across the street.

“A wall came through the building,” said a bystander, who watched as Virginia Fire Marshal Chris Clark wrapped yellow “Do Not Cross” tape across the front of Pep’s Bake Shop and Rocks the Jeweler.

The owners and employees of Pep’s gathered inside Range Office Supplies and Equipment across the street.

“We said there must be a storm coming, but we didn’t think it wouldn’t come through our wall,” said Pep’s Assistant Manager Alison Biondich.

Bakers were in the back preparing pastries for the next day when a partial wall fell into their building. The accident was a result from the demolition of the Northland Building across the alley from the bakery.

Utilities were damaged including power and gas lines.

“We thought there was a thunderstorm,” said Pep’s co-owner Laura Collins, “but bricks came flying through the back window.”

Later, Collins explained that there is now a hole in the back of the building. The demolition team will finish tearing down the Northland Building’s wall before they can safely return to their building. “Then, we will board up the holes.”

Standing in an aisle of Range Office Supply, Collins quickly responded when asked if the business will reopen.

“Of course,” she said before looking around for support. After a pause she added, “Well, I think so.”

Jim and Julianne Paulsen, the owners and operators of Rocks the Jeweler, too, were quick to say that their business will come back following the accident.

“I told my wife this morning that when they take those last two structural walls down, if they don’t do it just right, it will fall into our wall and the power pole, which will hit our roof,” Jim said over the phone Wednesday afternoon.

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Virginia Fire Department and building inspection personel evaluate structural damage on several downtown busineses that were struck with falling debris when a section of the Northland Building exploded Wednesday morning. No injuries were reported but the area was evacuated for safety reasons.

“It happened exactly like that,” added Julianne, who is also on the Virginia City Council.

When time came for the demolition of the partial wall, the Paulsen’s watched from their business.

“We watched it happen in slow motion said,” Julianne said, describing the incident.

They own two storefronts at the location: one is used as the jewelry store while the other is closer to Pep’s, and is where they make custom pieces. The custom workshop side sustained most of the structural damage.

“After the fire department shores up the roof and they finish demolishing that wall, we can get back in the building,” Jim said. “Roofers are scheduled to come out and make it watertight. As soon as we can get back in there and operate we will be fine. But, we’ve already lost a whole day of business. ”

There were no injuries as a result of the demolition accident but precautionary measures were taken as surrounding buildings were temporarily evacuated and city departments were closed for the remainder of the day.


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