Building remodel embraces mother's vision of Delavan's potential

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Catherine W. Idzerda
July 23, 2015

DELAVAN—Debra Alder wanted tin ceilings, wood floors and brick walls.

She got soot-covered walls, a building layout that can only be described as random, and tin ceilings that had been ruined with furring strips and years of amateur remodeling.

Never mind all of that now. In a week, the first phase of remodeling and reconstruction of a 100-year-old building in downtown Delavan will be complete and will be celebrated with wine and cheese and, probably, a toast to Mary Gene Sullivan.

Here's how this story starts: Debra Alder was in Brick Street Market, 104 E. Walworth St., Delavan, talking with Laura Jacobs-Welch, the market's owner.

Jacobs-Welch told Alder she needed more space, and several people had suggested she move elsewhere.

“I thought, 'We cannot lose this,'” Alder said.

And at the same time, she and her spouse, Jeffrey Scherer, were considering what to do with an inheritance from her mother, Mary Gene Sullivan.

Sullivan grew up in Fontana, but she loved Delavan.

If the city could only be marketed properly, it would take off, Sullivan believed.

“She used to say that in Door County everything used to end at Fish Creek,” Alder said.

But then Sister Bay, Ephraim and other communities north began to benefit from their proximity to the main resort areas and finally became destinations in their own right.

Last fall, Alder toured the three-story brick building a few doors down from the Brick Street Market.

Despite the obvious challenges it presented, she decided to buy it.

The bottom floor used to be home to a tavern—people still remember the mangy taxidermy wolf behind the bar—as well as a variety of other businesses. The second two floors had eight apartments.

“We took ten Dumpsters of garbage out of here,” Alder said.

They found seven or eight layers of flooring. The walls yielded about the same amount. The boiler was only five years old, but the pipes were 100 years old, and both had to be replaced. They found brick walls, but they were covered with soot from a long-ago fire. They had to be cleaned and sealed.

Outside, the grubby facade that covered the lower floor was torn out and replaced with large windows framed in hunter green.

Upstairs, the apartments had to be stripped to the studs.

But the building had “good bones,” Alder said, and that made all the difference.

It also helped that her contractor, Rick Martin, of Martin Construction, “had the patience of a saint,” Alder said.

The end result?

The upstairs apartments aren't finished, yet, but the ground floor has been transformed from three retail spaces into one. The brick walls look upscale and urban. A fireplace built with bricks from the building will create an inviting corner on a fall or winter evening.

The retail space will be home to a business venture that combines the Brick Street Market and a wine shop/restaurant/tasting parlor.

Jacobs-Welch will now be using a kitchen that is almost bigger that her old business. She will continue to sell small farmstead cheeses from Wisconsin and around the world. She will continue to serve meals, but now her customers will have more space to relax and more choices.

Dale Johnson is joining her as the “wine guy” and plans to sell wine and run wine pairing events. He already has people signed up for several events, and a “wine club” is already established.

The business will have a wine cellar for club members where they can keep the bottles they've purchased.

Again, the feeling and style is upscale and urban but firmly anchored in Johnson's Midwestern friendliness and stock of wine stories.

People have already started calling the market to schedule holiday parties, wedding showers and small receptions.

A soft opening of the market is planned in about a week, and sometime in August the business will open its doors officially.

Mary Gene Sullivan would be proud.

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