A Sewing Space Lost

Ken Keith, co-owner of the industrial are in White River Junction, talks with fire investigators on Tuesday.

Doreen Keith worked late into the night in the office building in White River Junction, sewing together 200 costumes around recital and performance times.

Keith sewed alone and could whip through four leotards an hour. She sewed skirts, dresses and leggings and sometimes added feathers and sequins from patterns she made herself 25 years ago.

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Keith is a dance teacher and owner of Dancers’ Corner in White River Junction. 

“It started when we couldn’t find kid and adult-sized things that are the same,” said Keith, who teaches dancers as young as 2 and as old as 80. 

Costumes she used to order from catalogs never seemed to fit all her students.

Keith sewed the costumes herself just because she could.

Sewing the the costumes became as much part of her routine as the dance moves. She ordered giant rolls of fabric from New York City, laid them across the large table and went to work in her sewing room.

“It was set up just for costume making,” said Keith.

Keith lost her sewing room Tuesday morning along with two sewing machines worth $3,000 and about 150 yards of fabric worth a few more thousand. 

A fire destroyed the office building in the small industrial park where Keith’s sewing room was. Several warehouse buildings used by other businesses, were also destroyed.

Doreen Keith of Hartland makes her own costumes. Photo provided

“I haven’t really wrapped by head around this yet,” said Keith who vacuumed popcorn off the floor at her dance studio Tuesday afternoon and waited for her 3 p.m. class of dancers to arrive. 

On her wall were photos of all the costumes she's created through the years.

Keith had just finished costumes two weeks ago for a performance last weekend. Her next performance is a month away.

Keith co-owns the property where her sewing room was with her husband Ken and son Jared. 

The building is within walking distance from Keith’s dance studio. It's near the railroad and comprises 15 warehouses, pole barns and sheds. There are about nine tenants now--five of them were impacted by the fire. Up to 200 people work there at all hours.

The Keith family has co-owned the industrial area the past 10 years or so. Sue Kay is another co-owner and so is Kay’s partner Mike. In addition to the sewing room, the Keiths lost equipment and office space for White River Traffic, their trucking business which receives pulp from the train and delivers it to paper mills throughout New England. 

Jared, 34, oversaw management of White River Traffic.  

“I spend 60 hours a week here. I spend my whole life here, working,” said Jared. “It’s kind of tough to digest at the moment.”

Jared wasn't sure the extent of the damage but estimated hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of equipment was lost.

“It’s like a bad dream. I had things to do today,” said Jared, who planned to send invoices and load and unload trailers.

He had $1.5 million worth of pulp in a green warehouse behind the fire. The warehouse building was saved, but he's unsure if the pulp was damaged by smoke.

"It's hard to take inventory of everything now," he said.

Jared said they'll rebuild the industrial park and he's in the process of finding temporary office location for his eight employees impacted by the fire.

“The silver lining is nobody got hurt," said Jared--a sentiment his mother echoed on Tuesday.



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