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Bullock completes rehab of West Side building

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It could be a coffee shop. Or an art gallery. Maybe a combination of the two, with space for working artists in the back.

Tighe Bullock has plenty of ideas for the space he's creating on the West Side. All he needs is a tenant.

Since buying a 100-year-old commercial building in the heart of the Elk City Historic District in 2009, he's restored one of its twin storefronts and all of the second floor.

Elements, a beauty shop and spa, occupies the space on the right, beside the alley. Bullock's sister, Megan, leased half the second floor for her graphic arts business, Mesh, and he uses the back half for storage.

Now he's tackling the second storefront, most recently home to Freeman's Restaurant. For ideas, he turned to a recent market survey by West Side Main Street.

 "There was a resounding need for a neighborhood hangout -- a professional atmosphere, a coffee shop where people could meet for business meetings.

"Within a 50- to 100-yard radius we have so many professionals -- architects, engineers. They all go downtown for a cup of coffee. We'd like to change that.

"I'd like to see a local coffee shop-slash-gallery. I've talked to some local artists."

The building has room for artists to not only show their work, but also produce it, he said. "This back space would be perfect for a couple of artists to share, like a potter. I could see doing that upstairs, too."

Just 24 years old, Bullock learned how to fix up old buildings while still in college, working on his father's building across the street. John Bullock's historic renovation of the Gaddy Engineering offices is now a neighborhood showpiece.

"I saved almost every penny from that," Tighe Bullock said. At 303 W. Washington St., he is his own general contractor.

"A lot of sweat equity. To do your own building you don't have to have a license. I do my own blueprints. I arrange my own financing. First Bank of Charleston has been great to work with. I've got a few other places, but this is my favorite. It's got a lot of potential."

Blue plastic covers the opening where Bullock has removed the old façade along Washington Street. Inside, he's gutted the interior back to the bare brick walls.

"What was here before, Freeman's Restaurant ... there were probably five layers on the walls. It was pretty unhealthy. We pulled the ceilings down. There was probably an inch of filth. We want to get it clean, for health. I think before that wasn't the case."

He doesn't plan to cover the bricks. "We kind of like the industrial look, exposed ductwork, no dropped ceilings.

"One thing we're doing is [aiming at] historical integrity." Using about 30 different router bits, he plans to carve out replica wooden trim. I found some of the old pieces of trim and I have some from across the street."

He is completely rebuilding the exterior following a drawing by Mike Gioulis, a designer who works with Main Street groups across the state.

"When we took the old one down we found kind of a '70s façade. Behind that was an old glass transom."

Bullock plans to install transom windows above the doorways, along with plate glass windows and handmade door with still more windows. He obtained a façade grant from West Side Main Street, which will match 50 percent of his expenses up to $5,000. He used a similar grant on the other half of the building.

"That's a great program," he said. He figures he spent about $12,000 on the earlier façade.

Stephanie Johnson, director of the Main Street program, says there is more money available in the façade grant program. "We encourage other business owners to apply, even if they're renting. Any business on Washington Street is eligible."

Bullock, who grew up on the West Side, said the Main Street program is starting to have an impact.

"The West Side is undergoing a renaissance in the last seven years. I think it gets a bad rap. It's changing. You're in walking distance of the mall, the Civic Center."

The blue tarp will soon be coming down, possibly within two weeks, Bullock said.

"The inside will take longer. As soon as that's done, we're ready to have someone come in. We'd like to get at least $1,000 a month, depending on how the build-out is done. We can do it, or they can hire their own contractor. We're flexible."

Reach Jim Balow at balow@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5102.


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