Caleb Stoll, the owner of the Amish Community Market and Bakery in Unity drives a buggy past the site of the burned-out store. Credit: Abigail Curtis / BDN

UNITY, Maine — Immediately after a fast-moving fire destroyed the Amish Community Market and Bakery in Unity last week, Caleb Stoll felt overwhelmed as he looked at the still-smoldering ruins of the business he had built from the ground up.

But the outpouring of support he and the community are receiving from around the state has buoyed his spirits at a tough time.  

“People are being very, very helpful,” Stoll said Wednesday. “It wouldn’t sound right to say that I am surprised, but I wouldn’t have expected this kind of response. We’re getting letters and calls and offers of help.”

The fire was discovered last Thursday afternoon by a woman working in the store’s bakery. She ran out to get help, but within minutes there were “flames all over,” Stoll said. Although the fire marshal has not pinpointed the fire’s cause, Stoll believes it started in the chimney or stove.

“I think the initial sight of the store in flames was pretty overwhelming,” he said. “Where it felt almost hopeless was the next morning, coming down and seeing the ruins, which were still smoking.”

But a crew of about 20 Amish community members and neighbors helped clear the rubble away. They were done with the bulk of the work Friday night, just a day after the fire. That day, a neighbor with an excavator helped clear away the heavy steel, while others grabbed shovels and wheelbarrows to remove the rest of the charred remains.

Less than a week after a fire destroyed the Amish Community Market and Bakery in Unity, there was only a snow-covered slab where the store used to be. Credit: Abigail Curtis / BDN

Since then, Stoll has been busy making plans and trying to respond to all the messages they are getting. Although he did not have insurance for the building, he is planning to rebuild and hopes to be open by early summer.  

“You can kind of picture what happens in the community,” he said. “We help each other with expenses.”

What he didn’t count on was the help of other Mainers who appreciate the store and want to support him in his rebuilding efforts. Stoll said he’s received donations as small as $10 and as large as $1,000, as well as many offers to help rebuild.

“Just the fact that people took the time to think of us [is meaningful],” Stoll said.

In the meantime, he and others are working on a temporary location for the store in a former produce building next door.

“We’re hoping to put a stove in, at least, and get some feed and bulk food for the community,” he said.  

Stoll started construction on the store in the summer of 2009, and believes it opened the following spring. It was one of the first businesses to open in the Waldo County Amish community, which formed in 2008. When the store opened its doors, there were just five or six households in the community, which now counts between 20 and 25 households and between 150 and 200 people, Stoll said.

The market and general store has been a popular destination for many who come for the homemade doughnuts and more.

“It’s an important economic draw to the town of Unity from people outside the town,” Penny Picard Sampson, the chair of the select board, said. “A lot of people shop there. That’s where my husband gets his boots.”

The town’s economic development community already has been talking about ways to support the rebuilding efforts, she said, adding that she’s not surprised that so many people have been offering financial and other assistance.

“The Amish community is self-supporting, and I’m sure it’s hard for them. For non-Amish to give them such an outpouring of support is probably not something they’re used to,” she said. “We’ve always supported the businesses. But now we’re supporting them financially after a tragedy, basically.”

Stoll said he appreciates that.

“I don’t have a way to adequately thank the people who have responded,” he said.

If people want to help, they may send donations to Downeast Credit Union, Community Market Savings Account, PO BOX 760, Unity, ME 04988 or Community Market, C/O Bishop Caleb Stoll, 368 Thorndike Road, Unity, ME 04988.