A mainstay of downtown Brainerd recently received a storefront makeover, significantly changing the building’s appearance and bringing back second story windows that once graced the front of the brick building.
Bob and Fran’s Factory Direct appliance and furniture store, on the corner of Laurel and South Eighth streets, was the beneficiary of work on the exterior brick, the addition of a new awning identifying the store -- and a return of the graceful second floor windows that marked the front of the building when it was originally constructed in 1930.
Building owner Dave Pueringer of Pueringer Properties said they’ve been getting a lot of compliments on the work, which included sandblasting the brick, repairing the sandstone and tuckpointing.
Pueringer said they were trying to restore the front of the building to the way it used to look. Energy efficient windows were made for the second floor and once they took off the wood cladding the windows, they realized the previous windows were still there underneath. Those windows went to another vintage building.
So it is likely the windows on the building’s South Eighth Street side are also intact beneath the wood covers. Pueringer said he plans to leave the side of the building the way it is. He said there is a concern about heating if all the windows would be restored. Pueringer said he was assisted in the project by grant dollars and worked with the Housing and Redevelopment Authority. Pueringer, who owns other downtown properties, also renovated the former Downtown Mall into the Brainerd Lofts.
“I’m excited about what is going on downtown,” Pueringer said, noting the recent soft opening of the Knotty Pine Bakery on Laurel Street. “I think we are going to see major changes here in the next year as more and more people are coming down.”
Bob and Fran’s is owned by Bob and Fran Schulers’ two daughters and their husbands, Dennise and Vince Kline and Julie and Ted Franz.
On Friday Vince Kline said they were really happy with the changes and were glad to have the natural lighting for the second floor displays. Looking back at the photographs from 1930 when the building was new and constructed for Montgomery Ward, Kline said the front really pops. The wooden frame windows covered by the wood were remarkable and Kline was glad they could be repurposed to restore a different building.
Kline said several Montgomery Ward stores were constructed around the country that year and all featured the same building design and look.
After working in downtown Brainerd for 30 years, Kline said they haven’t seen the changes in those three decades that have happened in the last few years with work to restore and renovate the buildings.
They’ve received a lot of comments on the building work already, both on social media posts and in person, as people have entered the store to talk about the work. Last week, the massive new black and white lighted awning was installed on the front of the building. The awning is lit beneath and from above. A lighted sign for the store will move to the side of the building as well.
“I think it’s kind of exciting for everyone in the area,” Kline said. “I think it’s just good timing. The last few years we are just hearing a lot more positive messages about downtown and I think it’s just good timing to have it happen now.”
Kline, too, pointed to recent work in the area and the opening of the bakery across the street. In the past few years, the buildings across the street were renovated, more windows revealed and awnings added and new business opened.
Kline said they are open to having the rest of the building’s windows restored, noting they’d have to think of something to provide heat for upstairs to make it work.
“But we would love to have the whole thing done,” Kline said, “that would look gorgeous. We’d be more than willing to lose the wallspace to have that restored.”
Bob and Fran’s has increased its offerings from major furniture pieces and appliances and Kline said they’ve really gotten into home decor and accents and gift items. Now as the next generation of family members are working at the store as well, Kline said they hope to continue the store’s long presence downtown for a lot of years to come.
Kline said it’s nice to see all the positive changes recently after so many years. He said they always check out downtowns when they travel and there is no reason Brainerd can’t have that same thing again here.
“Hopefully the momentum will keep going,” Kline said.
The work on the building was a mixture of local business efforts with Brainerd Glass doing the work on the window. Two Brainerd companies and one from Pine River worked on the massive canvas with Digital Ink behind the lettering, Brian's Welding providing the framework, and Canvas Tech made the awning. Kassulker Concrete of Brainerd also did the brick work the building.
Editor's note: This story was updated to provide the correct name of the awning maker as Canvas Tech of Pine River, not Pine River Canvas.