Century-old West Side property gets face lift
Thanks to the efforts of a Merrill renter, artist and a handful of diligent contractors, a 125-year-old building on the city’s west side has a new look and is open for business.
Mark Raymer has been in the business of property rental for the last 24 years. After selling his 1318 Water St. rental property to Agra Industries in 2012, Raymer set his sights on the neglected property at 1502 W. Main St.
“After 23 years and four deployments in the Marine Corps, I was looking for a bigger challenge,” Raymer says. “This building definitely filled the bill… and the next, and the next,” he adds with a laugh as he stands in the newly finished commercial area in the building’s lower level. “To say this project was a challenge would be an understatement. When I purchased it, this whole place was filled with 124 years of crap. It was in pretty sad shape, it wasn’t on the city list of blighted property, but pretty close.”
The brown brick structure was built in 1890, and was the home of Emerich’s Mercantile Exchange.
“According to the Merrill Historical Society, Emerich’s was the most modern department store of its time,” Raymer adds.
Since then, the building has seen a variety of uses including a delicatessen, food production, and a wool mill.
“After I purchased this place, I envisioned a multi-use rental property,” Raymer explains. “I wanted apartments upstairs and I really had no clue what to do with the lower level. But I knew I wanted to preserve as much of the original architecture and woodwork as possible.”
To make his vision a reality took nearly three years of hard work, brain storming and a bit of creativity. As Raymer says, the creative aspect was left up to local artist Traci Fick, who also owns and operates DAT Bar with husband Dennis.
“Traci is an amazing painter,” Raymer says. “I had seen her work on various occasions and even though I didn’t really know what I wanted yet in terms of paint design and color, I knew she could make it happen. So I approached her and asked for her expertise in turning this place into something.”
“I was pretty surprised to say the least!” Fick adds with a laugh. “We have known Mark for a while, and we had talked quite a bit about his ideas for the building. Then one day he comes in and asks me to come over and paint! I’ll be honest, I wasn’t so sure about it at first. But once I came over here and had a look, I was all in.”
“I gave her the brush and told her to go for it,” Mark says. “Design, coloring; everything was her call.”
Now, two years and 10 months after his initial purchase, Raymer’s vision for an aging piece of Merrill history has become a reality.
The second level consists of three apartments, one three-bedroom and two, two-bedroom.
“The apartments were finished in November and all but the studio apartment on the lower level has been rented,” Raymer says.
As Mark alluded to, the lower level now consists of a studio apartment, and two commercial rental areas.
The east half has been rented by Leah Brown of Dawn Troyer Dance Studio, and is set to open in January.
“We feel this is a great location for our studio and we are very excited to work with Mark,” Brown states. The studio will offer a variety of dance instruction including jazz, tap and hip-hop.
The west half of the building is currently available and consists of 900 square feet.
“It’s been a long journey to get here,” Mark says as we tour the newly finished areas. “There were times we didn’t know if it would ever get done. I can’t say enough about Traci, Dave, Javier and everyone else who has helped me along the way.”
Fick is in agreement.
“I am in awe,” she adds as we enter the available commercial area, with its high ceiling, intricately designed and painted. “I am just the icing on the cake, these guys have rolled the dough and baked the cake.”
One accomplishment that stands out for Raymer in particular, is the idea of giving the historic building a new life of sorts.
“Even though this turned out to be a bigger project than I thought, one of the things I kept in mind early entire project is: ‘This building is 124 years old. What improvements can I do to make this building last another 124 years?’,” he says.