The local farmers market has been a community staple since 1975. // Photo courtesy of Willey Farms
In the early hours of Monday morning, massive flames destroyed Willey Farms, a family-run market in Townsend.
The fire was reported shortly after 2 a.m. and continued through the morning, according to assistant state fire marshal Michael Chionchio.
Despite efforts from first responders across New Castle and Kent Counties, the blaze reduced the local market to rubble. The deli, greenhouse, butcher and garden center were all left in ruins after 43 years of business.
Photo Courtesy of Willey Farms
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No one was harmed, but one firefighter is in stable condition after being treated for stress-related injures at Christiana Hospital, according to Townsend Fire Company spokesperson David Hall.
State fire investigators are searching for the cause of the fire, but nothing has been determined yet, says Chionchio.
The loss of Willey Farms is more than simply the loss of a business. Since 1975, the farm has been a beloved one-stop-shop for families in the area.
Roxane Ferguson, the executive director of the Middletown Area Chamber of Commerce, has fond memories of shopping at Willey’s for home goods when she first moved to Middletown. Now, she says, Willey’s is part of her everyday life.
“Every family has favorite memories there. They have great firsts there. For us it was out first flowers and first plants,” she says. “They just meant so much to the community.”
The market spoke out on their Facebook page in the hours after the fire.
“It will be lots of hard heartbreaking work. But she will be built again. We do know that,” they wrote.
Across the community, people are coming together to share their condolences and hopes for Willey’s future.
“It’s heartbreaking, but there is always a silver lining. They can rebuild and try some new things,” says Ferguson. “I’m just glad they’re rebuilding. The community wouldn’t be the same without them.”
As winter approaches, local shop owner Amber Shader worries for the farm employees who may be without jobs.
“My concerns are definitely with the employees without jobs during the holiday season. They always greeted you with a smile,” says Shader, who owns First and Little Boutique in Middletown. “My initial reaction was complete devastation, but also relief that nobody was injured.”
Willey’s is known for their continued support of local projects, including teaming with high schools, the Lion’s Club, the Salvation Army, the Townsend Fire Company and many more.
“Willey’s has always been such a huge supporter of the community, and I think that’s why they’re getting so much love from the community right now,” says Shader.