NORWAY – People are rallying around the owner of the Colonial Coffee Shoppe and her eight employees to help rebuild the business as town officials decide the fate of the Opera House where the restaurant was housed.

The structural integrity of the historic downtown building was severely compromised on Sept. 21 when a midafternoon roof collapse sent water through the ceilings and walls of the 1894 brick building setting off a sprinkler alarm system and putting two first-floor businesses – including the restaurant – out on the street.

“We need to let the community know that we support our local businesses. We’ll be there to pick up the pieces,” said Lisa Martin, a Paris resident who organized a benefit dinner and dance for Elise Thurlow, owner of the Colonial Coffee Shoppe.

The disaster also left the owner of Beauty Beyond on the street. Although the owners of both businesses said they had insurance, building owner Barry Mazzaglia of Bitim Enterprises in Londonderry, N.H., was not insured, according to fire Chief Michael Mann.

Beauty Beyond has re-opened at a building owned by Mazzaglia in Market Square in Paris. Thurlow hopes to establish a new home in Norway in a building next to Jacobys on Main Street.

Martin, a longtime friend of Thurlow and a customer at the restaurant for the past three decades, said the loss of the restaurant is difficult. “Going into the Colonial is like going home,” she said of the feeling she always got when walking into the restaurant that Thurlow recently acquired.

Martin said damage to the Opera House emphasizes what happens when people don’t maintain buildings properly. “Too many out-of-staters buy these buildings and don’t maintain them. Then they turn a blind eye and ignore them when something like this happens,” she said.

A second inspection was being conducted at the Opera House Tuesday, at the request of town officials. The future of the building has yet to be determined but its owner has been working since the collapse to shore it up while a long-term plan is worked out.

Meanwhile Thurlow says she is thankful for her friend’s help. “She’s just great,” said Thurlow of Martin’s efforts to help her.

The benefit will be held at the Paris Legion Hall on Nov. 24 with dinner from 3 to 6 p.m. followed by dancing to live music until 10 p.m. There will be raffles, door prizes and 50/50 drawing.

Tickets are $8 or $15 per couple. Donations are being accepted through a bottle and can drive being held at J.R. Redemption Center or Don’s Redemption Center.

“It’s going to be a wonderful night,” Martin said.

Further information can be obtained by calling Martin at 739-2393.

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