Making it happen: Revitalizing a landmark

By By BOYD NUTTING / Niles Daily Star
NILES – Linda and Earl Foster can foretell the future, and it's a new day dawning.
To see into their crystal ball is to see a busy downtown, full of shops – full of shoppers. As current owners of a downtown Niles business, Hob Nob Bistro, they are not newcomers to being small independent business owners, and now they think there is room for more.
So they made the leap.
They recently purchased the former F.W. Woolworth building, located at 115 E. Main St., with plans to renovate the structure into a series of shops, much like a mercantile building.
Designs for the building show an entryway followed by a long corridor flanked by separate shops, each with French style doors. Spaces will be leased out to individual merchants and could include jewelry or health food stores, clothing or antique shops, depending on each businesspersons' dream.
Linda walks through the wide open space and doesn't really see its current state of disrepair. Even though the building has been vacant since the late 1990s she doesn't see the leaking roof or the crumbling floor tiles. Yelling over the din of construction workers' machines, she points her finger over here and over there and out come ideas.
"That's going to be mine," she indicates a corner of the building, explaining how she plans for it to be a kind of coffee shop, with a fireplace, couches, baby grand piano and walls lined with book shelves. Her particular storefront will be called The Fireside Chat, the name inspired from President Roosevelt's radio broadcasts. One of her regular customers from the Hob Nob gave her the idea for the name, she said.
One of the biggest reasons for starting the new project is to help bolster the downtown business climate, said Linda. "I think this is going to be really great for the downtown, she said. "I see it as an opportunity for people to start a small business and instead of investing in long-term leases, they can start in a smaller space. Then maybe they can move into a bigger store," Linda said. She added that because of the weak economy, "people are a little bit apprehensive" about starting a new business. "This way they can test the waters," she added.
While Earl operates a Bob Cat taking up old tile, in the corner wait stacks of new ceramic tiles and laminated flooring. A small crew of workers is scraping and sweeping broken flooring. Linda picks up a broom.
"They're my heroes, they really are," said Lisa Croteau, the Program Manager of the Niles DDA Main Street, a group of business owners and volunteers aimed at improving downtown business. "They are obviously comfortable with the downtown business climate and they can see an opportunity for reward," she added.
"That will be such an enhancement of that block," said Croteau.
It will take a lot of work before the Fosters open the new venture, which they expect will happen in June of this year. The roof will need fixed, some of the flooring replaced and windows repaired, and then they will build the main corridor and rooms for individual tenants, which includes a restored tin ceiling, a chandelier and interior "streetlights."
But Linda is looking into the future even after that. Upstairs are two 1,300 square foot areas where she plans to put apartments. "I already have plans for those. We want to put in fireplaces, and in one of the apartments a Jacuzzi."
Croteau agrees with the plan. "Whenever an apartment downtown becomes vacant, it gets rented out right away," she said.

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