Six months ago, Ashley Abell and Brad Sonczewski had been settled into their new Berlin, Md., store for about a month. The store had been well received and was bigger than their former Selbyville store.
Life was good.
Then, on April 23, Abell got a Facebook message that started, “Oh, Ashley…” and she was racing from her Ocean Pines, Md., home to neighboring Berlin… only to find Attics of My Life, her brand-new store, destroyed by a fire.
Abell said she doesn’t remember anything of the days immediately after the fire — it was as if she just couldn’t process what had happened, and she just shut down.
It was the second anniversary of the death of her “bonus son” — which is what she called her ex-husband’s son — at 25. Abell said she was “in bed, just sitting and thinking and reminiscing,” and she got a message that said, “Please tell me you’re not in your store.”
“I remember pulling in to Berlin… there’s police and fire and there’s hoses, and the streets were all blocked off,” she said. And then she saw her friend Hayley Howard, who lived closer to the store and whom she had called and asked to go to the store and tell her what was happening.
“By seeing her face, I knew what I was in for,” Abell said. “I went running down the street, and I saw the smoke and the fire coming out through the front window. And I just dropped. And that’s where my memory shut down. I have no memory for three days.”
The part of the building on Main Street where their shop had been was gutted. The shop in the other side of the building suffered smoke damage in the fire.
Abell and Sonczewski spent the ensuing months regrouping, trying to figure out what to do next. In a huge stroke of luck — or, as Abell puts it, “the universe doing its thing,” an old feed store in Selbyville became available, and the two jumped on it.
It has a front area that has enough space for them to showcase the custom furniture pieces that Sonczewski builds, as well as the furniture that Abell refinishes, plus an eclectic mix of home décor items. In addition, Attics of My Life sells specialized paints and finishes, as well as tools for DIYers to use in their own refinishing projects.
What makes it absolutely perfect for them, though, is behind the door that now bears the Attics of My Life sawblade logo. Through the old wooden door is a workshop big enough for Sonczewski to build furniture — ranging from an oversized square table just beginning to take shape to the smaller live-edge table (using the natural edge of the wood) with an old iron sewing-machine base. There’s even room left over for Abell to bring her pieces back to glorious new life.
When the pair, who are long-time life partners as well as business co-owners, decided to move into the Church Street shop — really, just a few weeks ago — it wasn’t the first time they’d looked it over. They had, in fact, wanted to move there before making the move to Berlin, but the details just couldn’t be worked out, Abell said.
Whether it was the planets in alignment or just plain fate, this time everything fell into place, and after a few weeks of intense work turning the old feed store into their workshop-retail store, they held a grand-opening on Saturday, Oct. 13.
“We pulled up our bootstraps and we transformed, in two weeks,” Abell said. “We came in, and we do what we do.”
The Friday before the opening, despite the amount of work still ahead, Abell and her crew of friends and relatives remained focused and calm, Howard working on setting up the shop’s computer and payment systems, and Sonczewski chipping in wherever he was needed.
Abell said she could not have gotten through the past six months without a faithful crew of family and friends. Barely holding back emotion, Abell recalled talking to her son Blake via Facetime, and at one point in the conversation, her screen went black. That was when she realized that he was actually in her house. “Is this better?” he said. “I’ve moved home to help you, Mom,” he said.
“I just crumbled,” Abell recalled.
All of that now behind them, Abell and Sonczewski are living their store motto, “We Make Old Things New.” Abell said she is excited to be back in Selbyville, which she said she feels is on the verge of a re-awakening, with new businesses moving in and a pride of place moving the town forward.
She said she and Sonczewski hope to start offering some classes, including some that are tailored specifically to women who want to learn basic woodworking skills.
For now, though, she is busy stocking the store with items that she struggles to classify… Boho? Mid-century modern? She said she knows what it’s not — “It’s not beachy,” she said, adding that her décor sensibilities will definitely work in a beach home, though.
Abell said that she and Sonczewski frequently get compared to Chip and Joanna Gaines of HGTV’s “Fixer Upper” TV show, because he does woodwork and she is more of a designer by passion. Perhaps, Abell said, but “with attitude. I have tons of attitude.”
“I think the fire was there to destroy me, but I think the fire was also there to show me where I needed to be,” she said.
Attics of My Life is located at 74 W. Church Street in Selbyville. For more information, call (410) 430-0413. Business hours are Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The name of the business, Abell said, reflects both the couple’s wish to repurpose good stuff from the past, through using reclaimed wood and giving old furniture new life, and her love of music.
“Music is a huge part of my life,” Abell said. A former “Deadhead,” she said she picked “Attics of My Life” partly because it’s a Grateful Dead song.
There is one particular line of the song, Abell said, that speaks to her — “When I had no wings to fly, you flew to me.” That is certainly true of the family and friends who circled around her and Sonczewski after the fire and who are now celebrating the rebirth of their dream right along with them.
By Kerin Magill