Archive for Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Shouts and Murmurs: Motivation sparks entrepeneurs

October 23, 2002

Sometimes dreams begin with a vision, no matter how small.

When I moved back to Tonganoxie five years ago, it was a delight while in Matt Bichelmeyer's downtown grocery store to look up and see, where a few of the suspended ceiling's tiles had been removed, the building's original tin ceiling high above.

Surely, everyone who ever was in the building when it was simply known by locals as "Zoellners" an old-fashioned combination dry goods store and grocery store that operated from 1900 until the late 1960s remembers the old tin ceiling, its ornate bumps and grooves gleaming with silver paint.

There was something nostalgic, even in the years when it didn't seem to be such an old building, about walking into the cavernous establishment where with the tin ceiling, bare hardwood floors, the bolts of fabric, and men's denim overalls, melded congenially with the packed grocery store shelves and the old-fashioned meat market. On sunny afternoons Fred Zoellner would step outside to crank open the green canvas awnings that shaded his display windows. Zoellners was a place where time seemed to have stood still.

But even that passed, and when the building was modernized in the late 1960s, it seemed only natural to have a bright modern new grocery store in its place.

By the late 1990s the store's then-owner, Matt Bichelmeyer, found himself competing for business with stores much larger. He was landlocked at that location.

Perhaps, I wonder now, it was no haphazard slip of mind that he left his ceiling tiles so long removed. Perhaps it was no plumbing or electrical problem that had been the cause of the tiles' removal in the first place. Perhaps the view of the tin ceiling above was, in reality, his own glimpse, not into the past as it could be for those who nostalgically remember Zoellners, but for Bichelmeyer, who did not grow up here, a glimpse into the future.

In the summer of 1999, he closed Bichelmeyer's Grocery Store. And the following April, after months of major construction and renovation he reopened the establishment as Bichelmeyer's Steakhouse.

Bichelmeyer not only uncovered and restored the century-old tin ceiling he purchased an 1800s bar complete with a mirror that stretches to the ceiling.

Even the tornado that a month later ripped off his roof and flooded his restaurant didn't deter Bichelmeyer from his dream.

Today the restaurant with a new green awning which would have made Fred Zoellner proud stands as an icon along Fourth Street.

I wonder, as in the recent weeks I've interviewed owners of new businesses, what it is that drew them to their own startups. Leisa Bray said she decided to start up a rustic furniture shop after being unable to find in stores the western dr she wanted after a remodeling project. April Dean started a candle and potpourri shop after becoming interested in candle making as a hobby and wanting a career less stressful than working as a ICU nurse practitioner.

Jack Cronemeyer last year turned a former automotive shop into a popular southwest restaurant. Jesse and Diana Smith turned a plain storefront into a 1960s-style hamburger and ice cream shop. Pam and Tim Volk went so far as to construct, with their own hands, a sort of general-store holiday shop and workshop in their rural Tonganoxie backyard. There are many more entrepreneurs in our community who have carried out dreams of their own their work is obvious throughout the area.

Each of these projects, no matter the type or size, began with a vision.

I don't know if the tin ceiling inspired Matt Bichelmeyer to turn a dying grocery store into a destination restaurant but I do know that even greater projects have started with less of a footing.

After all, sometimes it just takes a vision a glimpse into what is or what was and a glimpse into what can be.

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