Aug. 7, 2006

Preserving history one building at a time

By Linda Scherer
Staff Writer

Greg Gehrman of northeast Minneapolis purchased the old creamery building on the corner of 2nd St. S. and McLeod Avenue when it went up for sale in early summer.

It is the second building in Winsted that he owns and is in the process of renovating.

Gehrman, together with Mark Schaefer, New Brighton, purchased the Winsted True Value Hardware Store building on Main Avenue the spring of 2004.

Both Gehrman and Schaefer have a vision for the renovation of the buildings and see them as an asset to the potential growth of the area.

Neither are too concerned about what the buildings will actually be used for, but they do have ideas with great possibilities.

Building on 2nd Street

If you see a huge white bus sitting out front of the old creamery building a couple of nights a week, it is the temporary home of Greg Gehrman while he continues to work on the hardware store building in Winsted and begins renovating and exploring the use of alternative energies in what used to be the Winsted creamery building.

“I don’t get concerned about what its occupancy will be – but just want to save and preserve the building. A couple of more years and that building would have been knocked down,” Gehrman said.

“If you pull the tin off and get back to the brick, it is a beautiful building under there,” Gehrman said.

In addition to the hardware store building and the creamery, Gehrman has renovated a number of other buildings in the Twin Cities including a five-unit building that he returned to its original duplex floor plan.

He likes the ability to shop around for antiques from the same time-frame as the original construction and use it in his buildings.

“I was a potter for a number of years. My interest is in the use of materials. It is a means by which I can use old materials, salvage things, put old things back, and to create the space,” Gehrman said.

“So, the time I get to spend out here (Winsted) and the people I get to meet, I get bits of history and try and incorporate it back into the building,” Gehrman said.

Gehrman, a college graduate with a degree in psychology and biology, has plans to explore alternative energies for a couple of years in the creamery building.

Schaefer and Gehrman own a spray foam insulation business together that uses petroleum-based products. Gehrman would like to “cook a little bio diesel and work with soy oil” and try to discover an alternative energy for use in their spray foam insulation business.

While Gehrman is exploring alternative energies, he will be renovating the building.

In a couple of years’ time, he is thinking of a restaurant, with maybe a novelty brewing pub where customers could brew, taste, and drink the beer.

He would like to see the name of the place include the word “creamery” so the history of the building will not be lost.

Building on Main Avenue

Gehrman and Schaefer met through real estate in Minneapolis about eight or nine years ago.

Schaefer is married with an 11-month-old daughter; Gehrman is a “committed single.”

They were in Winsted looking for a home for a friend so she could have a place to live and get some equity at the same time. They saw the “for sale” sign out in front of the Boger’s True Value Hardware Store and thought the upstairs would make a perfect apartment and provide a place for her to live in town.

When their friend’s plans fell through, Gehrman and Schaefer had already decided that they would keep the building themselves.

They enjoyed the stories that they had been hearing about the different uses that building had through the years. John Keating originally built a one-story building for hardware and furniture, then added the second story in the 1930s or 1940s. The second story housed a movie theater for awhile, and was also a place to sell furniture, according to Gehrman.

Both Gehrman and Schaefer see the interior being completed within the year.

The hardware store will remain as part of the building right now, with a new downstairs handicap-accessible bath, new pressed-tin ceiling, lighting, and floors.

The spacious upstairs, with its 16-foot-high ceilings, will be divided in half. The back half will be Gehrman’s and Schaefer’s residence when either of them is in the area. It will have a master bedroom, an additional bedroom, a bath-and-a-half, kitchen, and living area.

The other half of the upstairs will be a couple of low-key home style real estate offices, and a kitchen area, with large tables set up to use to view paperwork like floor plans or to just share ideas.

The back area courtyard has been enclosed with a padlocked gate. Gehrman said he would like to see flowers and a fountain out there, but it would also be nice to have a patio with maybe a place for the hardware store to display patio furniture.

Gehrman and Schaefer have created individual entrances for both halves of the building and better access to the garage.

The final construction will be the front of the building. “The remaining big project would be the front facade to the building. I know if I had my way, we would take the stucco covered brick off and just re-brick the front,” said Gehrman. He also indicated that it would maybe take awhile to complete that project.

Both are looking forward to what the building will look like when it is completed. It is obvious, when listening to them, they are enjoying watching their building take the shape of their original vision. They also enjoy hearing from individuals about the history of the building.

Schaefer, a college graduate with a business degree and a real estate background, sees their building as a future investment, but something that needs a transition. He enjoys being a part of making those changes. “This is something that we both enjoy doing. As we get into this plan and hear stories about the building, we are intrigued,” Schaefer said.

“We work well together,” Gehrman said.

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