Crowds gather to witness aftermath of Hampton Beach fire

Return to Table of Contents

By Alexis Macarchuk

Herald Sunday, Sunday, February 28, 2010

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
Bob Mitchell of Mrs. Mitchell's souvenir shop, stands in the charred remains of his family's business at Hampton Beach on Saturday.
[Scott Yates Photo]

HAMPTON BEACH --A steady stream of somber residents and summer beachgoers paced the usually desolate off-season, snow-dusted streets at Hampton Beach Saturday, mourning the charred remains of businesses that, for many, represented a lifetime of summer memories.

For Happy Hampton Arcade owner Ray Blondeau, the Thursday night fire that consumed almost a block of businesses — including his own — was even more devastating.

Blondeau bought the arcade 19 years ago, adding it to a number of family amusement establishments he has owned and operated off-and-on at the beach and elsewhere since 1959. He resided in the apartment above the arcade for almost 15 years.

While getting ready for bed Thursday night, Blondeau realized flames were moving toward the building. He made it out safely, but watched helplessly as a wind-whipped fire consumed the home and business.

"It's more than a business to me, it's very personal," said Blondeau. "We touched many lives. This is hard for me."

"He is so traumatized," Blondeau's son, Ray Jr., said of his father. "It's just awful, your memories as a child, everything, just gone."

A wave of support came to the Blondeau family Friday and Saturday via text messages, phone calls and e-mails from former patrons and employees.

Many of those touched by Happy Hampton Arcade and the other businesses leveled by the fire came to the beach over the weekend to pay tribute and to see for themselves the images that have been broadcast nationwide.

Carole Rattigan of Reading, Mass., came Saturday to say goodbye to the Surf Sweet Candy Shop, where she worked when she was a teenager and where she continued to take her family during summer vacations at the beach.

It's been 35 years since her days behind the counter, but Rattigan has kept in touch with the owners of the shop, who she said ran the business for 40 years.

"I can still see the toffee machine," she said, looking out at the empty space where the shop used to be. "My father has been coming here since 1938."

Kristin Long, who traveled from Dunstable, Mass., with her husband and four children, said she bought one of her favorite outfits at Mrs. Mitchell's, a T-shirt and souvenir shop that was destroyed by the fire.

"We come every week in June," said Long. "Our trips are going to be different now."

Hampton resident and Rye firefighter John Cots was on vacation in New York state when the disaster hit. He came to the beach Saturday to see exactly how much damage had been done to the block where the Surf Hotel and the other businesses had been.

"It's a lot of work. They've done a lot of work," Cots said, referring to the efforts of fire crews. "This is big."

A couple from Chelmsford, Mass., came to take pictures of the rubble. The wife, who is an artist, plans on making a collage of the images.

"I grew up here. We came here to cut class," the husband said. "It's really sad."

Blondeau said he plans on re-opening the business eventually, but thinks it will be difficult to get the space cleaned out and to acquire the necessary permits to rebuild.

Blondeau and his family still own Bonkers Funhouse in Peabody, Mass., which is where his focus remains most winters when many Hampton businesses are closed.

He recalled a half century of summers spent at his Hampton Beach businesses, and is distraught about what he'll do this summer now that the arcade is gone.

"I've lost my business. It's going to be very hard to rebuild. But we go back quite a while with this community," said Blondeau. "We've got to pool together to make it happen."

He is collecting pictures from anyone who snapped a memory inside the arcade. He asks people to send their photos to

Flocks of onlookers came to Hampton Beach on Saturday, Feb. 27, 2010, to view the charred remains of buildings after a blaze leveled a portion of an Ocean Boulevard block in Hampton on Thursday.
[Scott Yates Photo]
A couple take a portrait of themselves in the reflection of a broken window at Mrs. Mitchell's souvenir shop on Saturday.
[Scott Yates Photo]
Flocks of onlookers visited Hampton Beach on Saturday to view the charred remains of buildings after a blaze leveled an Ocean Boulevard block Thursday night.
[Scott Yates Photo]
Return to Table of Contents