Oxford rallies to support the Octoraro Hotel and Tavern after fire
● By Steven Hoffman
By Steven Hoffman
Hundreds of people strolled the streets of downtown Oxford last Friday night, enjoying the offerings of a busy First Friday on a cool but clear November night. Some people did a little early Christmas shopping at Millstone Jewelers, while others stopped by the Oxford Arts Alliance's third annual members' show. Some people picked up bouquets of flowers at Texture Salon & Spa, while others visited downtown Oxford's newest shop, the Soap Bucket Skincare & Candles. Some people took their favorite four-legged friends to RNJ Plaques & Engraving for free dog tags and dog treats as part of the canine-themed First Friday, while others left the puppies at home and stopped by Flickerwood Wine Cellars for a glass of wine.
Amid all this activity, the Octoraro Hotel and Tavern, a cornerstone of the town's revitalization efforts sat dark, its windows on the first floor boarded up.
A fire ripped through the 187-year-old building early last Tuesday morning, temporarily shutting the first floor restaurant and leaving eleven adults and one child without a place to sleep. Thirty-one employees were also left without work as a result of the blaze, which did not hurt anyone.
The Oxford community's response to this adversity was immediate and strong: As soon as word about the fire spread, an online campaign to raise money for those affected was launched through youcaring.com. Kennett Area Community Services, the Oxford Neighborhood Services Center, and SILO (Serving Inspiring Loving Others) helped find temporary housing for those displaced by the fire.
In the 48 hours after the fire, the staff of Oxford Mainstreet, Inc. (OMI) organized a large raffle for the Nov. 7 First Friday.
There was a continuous stream of visitors to the Shoppes of Oxford on Third Street as people took part in a raffle of more than 50 items or simply dropped off their donations to the effort, including cash, checks, or gift cards to grocery stores or local restaurants.
The outpouring of support was significant but hardly surprising.
“We have such an amazing community,” said OMI executive director Sue Cole. “So many people from so any different organizations are looking for ways to support the families of the owners, the employees, and the tenants. We all want to help. The holidays are coming.”
On Friday evening, everyone, it seemed, was talking about how much they wanted to help the Octoraro’s owners, John McGlothlin and Brannon Seaman, and the employees and residents. Cole said that in the 16 months that they've operated the Octoraro, McGlothlin and Seaman have done everything that they could to help others in the Oxford community.
“From the minute they opened,” Cole said, “they have opened the doors of their restaurant to non-profit organizations, school groups, sports teams, and the Arts Alliance and the Library. They invested their hearts and souls into this. They are genuine people. Because of the diverse groups that they help, they have been able to touch so many people. It’s not every day that you find a new, small business that will go that extra mile.”
Christine Grove, the executive director of the Oxford Arts Alliance, said that the Octoraro has opened its doors for two fundraisers for the organization.
“Our hearts are just heavy tonight,” Grove said. “We’re here tonight to help give back a little bit of what they’ve given to us.”
Grove marveled at the fact that the fundraiser was organized and pulled together in just a few days—a testimonial to the hard work of OMI and the generosity of local businesses.
“I think it’s unbelievable that they've been able to do this,” Grove said. “I’m not from Oxford, but boy am I proud to work here.”
Oxford residents Jeff and Jen Nowland are acquainted with McGlothlin and Seaman, and they said that the Octoraro owners embody the spirit of community by participating in so many different events and activities. Jeff Nowland said that that kind of community spirit is critical to revitalization efforts.
“What I love,” Jen Nowland said, “is how diverse their customer base is.”
Dozens of people signed an over-sized card that had the following message: “We stand alongside you…yesterday, today, and tomorrow.”
Well-wishers wrote such things as, “Prayers and hugs!” and “Hurry back I’m missing the burgers & wings already” and “Build it back!”
Some of the employees of the Octoraro Hotel and Tavern were at the raffle. They made t-shirts, drink glasses and baked goods and sold them at a table.
They talked about the outpouring of encouragement that they've received since the fire.
“It’s been hard, but everybody has been very supportive,” said waitress Daishalys Colon. “It’s a real blessing that people would come out and support us like this.”
“We’re all like a big family,” added Paige Sheffield, another Octoraro employee. “We all get along great and support each other.”
McGlothlin and Seaman both talked about how overwhelmed they were with all the support that they were receiving in the days after the fire.
“We got into this and never dreamed that this little community would give us so much love,” McGlothlin said. “I really don’t have the words for what this means to us. We’re so, so blessed.”
“It's very humbling,” Seaman agreed. “It's humbling and overwhelming. We're grateful, obviously. It's hard to take it all in. It’s about the people of Oxford. The building can be repaired. We would never be where we are without the people of Oxford. They are in it just as much as we are.”
The Octoraro owners said that, in addition to the kind words and the donations, they also really appreciated how other businesses in downtown hired some of the displaced employees, taking on extra payroll just so that those men and women would have work as the holidays approach.
The whole business district, Cole said, feels the absence of the Octoraro.
“There’s a gap in our community right now,” she explained. “That place where you go where everybody knows your name. We need that place back. We all want to have the gathering place back again.”
Melissa Pacella, OMI’s coordinator for special events said, “John and Brannon and the Octoraro have brought so much to Oxford and in particular our First Friday celebrations. We miss them and we can't wait until we have them back.”
Oxford Borough Council President Ron Hershey said, “It’s great to see so many people rallying around John and Brannon. We will support them in any way that we can. They deserve all the support that we can give them.”
As of Monday afternoon, $4,635 has been donated through youcaring.com. Another $3,000 was donated to the employees and residents as a result of the First Friday raffle.
It will take months for the building to be repaired, but everyone is looking forward to that day when the Octoraro Hotel and Tavern will again be serving the popular $5 Oxford Burgers to the lunch crowd.
“We want them to recover, rebuild, and reopen,” Cole said. “We’re with them every step of the way on this.”