“The Broadway Cafe has been a wonderful venue for many years. We had wedding parties there, Christmas carol singalongs, many wonderful musical artists. The garden in the back was a place for quiet reflection and happy companionship. The food was beyond delicious, the beer always great, the staff warm and friendly. My kids had their first ‘dinners out’ in the cafe. It was a small whiff of urban sophistication that stood them in good stead when they went out into the world,” fondly recalls Coburn.
Tiffany Thornhill got married at the Broadway Cafe. “I will sorely miss the Broadway Cafe. I got married there and worked there for years. I have many happy memories as I’m sure many people do. I hope Sussex rallies around these shops and I hope it motivates people to reinvest in the downtown and try to make it a thriving place once again,” says Thornhill.
Beth Nixon from the neighbouring farming community of Penobsquis says, “This was an amazing block of beautiful historical buildings. The block contained businesses that personified Sussex and brought business into the town. This area of Sussex has the train station and the now beautifully restored Hotel Sussex building. And while it may be early to think about this, I hope that they all will easily find new locations, or become part of any rebuild on Broad Street. I hope that these buildings can be replaced with something that matches the feel of the area.”
Thornhill shares Nixon’s hopes for downtown Sussex while noting the challenges and resilience of the downtown inhabitants: “That section of downtown was a historic part of the downtown with unique small businesses that struggled daily to keep afloat. All the harder now, given the big box stores that moved much of the business to the edge of town. What used to be a thriving mall in the center of downtown sussex is totally empty, requiring everyone to do their shopping for groceries, medicines, or clothing out of town. Despite these challenges the shop owners were innovative and creative and hardy.”
The quick response and work of firefighters from Sussex and Penobsquis are being praised for saving other buildings on the street, one of which was a link in the Underground Railroad.
Beth Norrad says, “My fondest memories are of the old theatre that sits beside where the cafe once was and is now a gym. Dad used to tell the story of how he and his older brother used to climb up outside the old theatre and somehow get themselves into where the spotlights were recessed. Then they would lay there and watch the shows. It was an opera house back then with silent movies and vaudeville acts. Dad particularly remembered the grand piano. Almost 70 years later some friends of mine who bought the old theatre were restoring it. I was helping them the day they broke through a wall underneath the stage, and found the piano. It had been boarded up under there for over half a century and was still mostly in tune!,” says Norrad.
“The theatre was full of hiding places because it was a major link in the Underground Railroad! As the restoration progressed we found some brilliantly built secret rooms,” recalls Norrad.
The fire also destroyed the homes of many who lived in the apartments above the cafe and shops. “The loss is a hard hit for the community, but Sussex is really rallying around those who lost everything, with many people and businesses offering help. I know my thoughts and prayers are with those who lost so much,” says Nixon.
“We can only hope that it will be rebuilt,” says Coburn.