Friday, March 30, 2012

Thoughts on an old project...

It looks like the Northern Grounds Restaurant is coming under new ownership again.
I heard they are going to change the name. I have to admit that saddened me a bit at first.
At first I thought it a bit odd that someone would take a place that was already a landmark and change it into something that they hoped would be a future landmark but then it occurred to me, how is that any different than what we did when we built it? Maybe it should have always stayed "Klun's Grocery"... It was a landmark then and I'm sure to many, it is still and always will be "Klun's grocery".

The new name and restaurant: A Taste Of Ely

I remember building that sign post and bolting it to the building and hanging the sign...

Well, I hope they keep the Panini's. That has always been the true mark of the Northern Grounds and I still go there occasionally for lunch and enjoy those sandwiches.

Back when they started there was a lady working there who made a killer bread pudding too. I can't remember her name... It really topped off the Panini nicely. That was back in the day when I had a metabolism that could absorb an entire Panini and a helping of bread pudding afterword... Now I eat half a sandwich and take the rest home.

For a time there it became a pizza place, "Wise Guys Pizza". People in town had a hard time with that I think. It was just hard to think of the Northern Grounds as pizza place. I guess I was in that camp as well, but I have to say, they made some of the best pizza I have ever tasted and I actually missed that when they went back to being a Panini lunch place.


...so lately I have been thinking about it... trying to think back about what transpired there some 15 years ago or so. Seems like longer but I think it was about 1996-1997 that the majority of the construction went on.


I remember when I first met my wife and then when we were newly married we used to go to the old grocery store occasionally. We both had one of those old grocery stores in our past and the smells and feel of Klun's brought back childhood memories the way only those types of smells and feels can. Klun was not a particularly friendly guy outwardly, but we could tell he was nice. We were just kids and he probably figured we were tourists or something, and in a sense, I suppose, at the time, we were...

Once we began having a family we had to go to the bigger stores where we could buy things in larger quantities and we kind of faded away from Klun's Grocery. We heard some time later that Klun had passed away and the place was for sale. We never really gave it a thought. Just another one of those things that happens in town that you hear about on the street corner but it doesn't effect your life so you move on. We had young kids and jobs and starting a business... life was crazy...


I had been talking to a guy named Carl Brady about building a house on a lake lot he had just purchased.
One day he came to me and told me he had purchased the old Klun's Grocery store.  He said he was going to make it into a coffee shop and art gallery. He asked me if I was interested in helping out, being the general contractor. I had no experience with commercial projects but of course I said "yes...sounds like fun". Well maybe not those exact words...

There were many times during the course of that project where I wondered if that was the right decision. If I were the right guy for the job. But Carl seemed to have faith in me. We were both venturing into new territory and it was an adventure.


...so we dug in. There were so many people that worked with me on that job, I won't try naming them... Many guys who are now contractors on their own in town worked with me in one way or another on that project.


I remember the start. Sledge hammers and crow bars were the tools.


We gutted the place. About the only thing we really kept was the look of the doorway area.
The new entry door was my first door project that I decided to do a carving on. Carl was nice nice enough to give me free reign there and I enjoyed putting that together.

I remember the early days, we would put on dust masks and by noon they would be black. We would be black with dust and dirt. The old walls were lathe and plaster, of course, so lots of heavy debris.

There was another entry on the street side with a private entrance to the apartment upstairs. We removed that and made that space part of the main room putting the timber stairs access to the eating space upstairs in that corner. The access for the basement was then moved back to the garage.
 There was a large, walk-in refrigerator room in the back. For some reason that is the main thing I remember about the place. It was built in sections, insulated panels bolted together. They were very heavy. It came apart nicely though, once we figured it out.

The second floor had a terrible sag. We had an engineer come in to look at it and give us some direction. He basically confirmed what we figured, that the place wasn’t going to collapse any time soon, but we decided to try to give it a lift and see what would happen. We poured large footings in the basement and set large timber posts. Then we got out our 20 ton jacks and tried to lift the second floor. I think we moved it slightly but certainly our efforts were not met with the success I had anticipated. The floor joists were tied to the walls and the walls were bowing out because of the sag in the floor, so, we were really trying to move the world and the world wasn't willing to move. We put our posts in to support the second floor as it was, then we suspended a ceiling on the main level so that part of it was level. We needed the suspended ceiling anyway to hid a lot of mechanical stuff and the ceiling was plenty high, so it all worked out.
The second floor, however, still has the sag. There was nothing we could do there.
The upstairs was a lot of small rooms. Somebody told me it was a house of prostitution back in the 30s or something, but I don't know whether or not to believe old legend like that. That was all before my time and I will leave it alone.

When you get in to a project like that you expect to find some interesting things here and there. There really wasn't much of that... The rooms upstairs all had interesting knobs with those old style large keys. Some of my kids were at that age when they still appreciated heavy interesting metal objects and the keys were a big hit when I brought them home. I think I still have them and some of the knobs somewhere.

The most interesting thing we found was a very old small disk shaped container made of thin tin about the size of a half dollar. It was an interesting object and it took us a second or two to comprehend the words printed on it, “Peacock, Reservoir Ends” and we realized it was an old container from a prophylactic sheath. It was empty. It was found in the basement in a cavity between the floor joists on top of the stone foundation wall...
I think one of the electricians found it, I don't know if it just got thrown away or what.

I probably have forgotten more than I can remember about that old place. This was before everyone carried digital cameras or cell phones had cameras and I am amazed at how few pictures I have of this to remember things. Most of my pictures are of after it was completed. I'm sure I could go on reminiscing about it, but it is mostly boring contractor talk... though some of it may be amusing...


The two new owners have a youthful energy and optimism going into it and that is usually one of the main ingredients for success, so I am sure they will do well. We need more of their type of enthusiasm in this town. Maybe it will prove to be contagious.


I wish Gordon and Kelly the best of luck. It will be interesting and exciting to see the next phase in the life of the old Klun's Grocery Store...
 
 My youngest son was about a year old when this picture was taken...