By Joseph Domelowicz Jr.
Walnut Street Café owner Jim Chalmers and his wife Alicia Churchill, this week credited the quick response and cooperation of the City of Lynn Inspectional Services Department, the tireless work of their staff and supporters and the overwhelming efforts of a small army of contractors with helping his shop quickly recover from what could’ve been a disastrous car accident in the early morning hours of December 28.
Anyone who is unfamiliar with the shop would not be able to tell by looking at the place now, but less than a month ago, Walnut Street Café was the site of a terrible car accident that completely caved in one wall of the store front.
“It happened about 2:15 a.m. on Monday, December 28,” said Chalmers of the accident that could’ve wiped out his business. “I’ve been told that it was a stolen vehicle that was in a chase with the police. The car went the wrong way up a one way street and the police broke off the chase for safety reasons, anyway a short time later I guess the (driver) lost control of the car and he drove straight through the front of my café.”
Chalmers, who is still working with the insurance companies to recoup his expenses, said he got the call from local officials shortly after the accident.
“My first call was to my brother, Mike, he’s a builder, he was able to get his friends to come down,” explained Chalmers, who has owned and operated the Walnut Street Café for the past 20 years. “I also was able to get a lot of great assistance from my friend (and ISD Commissioner) Michael Donovan, he was able to give us a lot of good advice and they worked with us to get inspectors down here right away, as we got the work done.”
There was a lot of work to be done. Chalmers explained that the effort required a structural engineer, several builders and contractors, electrical work and more, just to put the wall back together, make the building safe again and secure the business.
Inside, Chalmers staff led by Lori Ostroski and Marissa “Red” Coste led a team effort by employees to make sure the place “was cleaned up, polished and put back together again.”
In the end, Walnut Street Café missed just one day of business, as they re-opened at 6 a.m. on Tuesday, December 29.
Chalmers is also proud to admit that the Herculean effort put into re-opening the store so quickly, was largely done without him.
“My wife and I had to leave on vacation,” said Chalmers, somewhat guiltily. “We made the travel plans and paid for the trip months ago, my wife is a college professor, so there are only certain times of the year that we can go anywhere and normally I’m very proud of being at the shop to open up every day, but you’ve got to take time to re-charge the batteries. It’s just great that we have such good people we can rely on, even with something like this.”
Chalmers noted that the store is re-opened, but there is still work to do. He was in the process of rebuilding the café anyway and when the store is completed, there will be new barrier in front of the store to keep something similar from happening in the future.
“This could have been a real disaster if we had been open or people and been inside when the car crashed into us, so we’re doing what we can to make sure it is safer from now on,” he said.
There are also other improvements that he and his wife are looking to make.
In addition to their great food and coffee, Walnut Street Café is known as a great little venue for live music and spoken word poetry, and the musicians and artists who have long been supported by Walnut Street, have organized a charity event to help purchase a new sound system for the Café, to replace the one that was damaged in the accident.
That event will be held on January 22 (Friday night), with 12 song writers performing in the round. For more information, go to www.walnutstreetcafe.com.
“More than anything, this is a neighborhood place and it was really very nice to see how much the neighborhood supported us when this all happened,” said Chalmers