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Published: Thursday, 10/23/2008

Family store helps lead way in downtown Monroe fixup


MONROE - Gabe Martin hopes the nearly $30,000 in exterior renovations to the 19th-century building of his family owned shoe store will inspire a revitalization of downtown Monroe.

A Toledo firm contracted by Mr. Martin recently began repairing the brick faade on Martin's Shoe House, where the family business has operated since 1846.

A grant obtained though the Downtown Development Authority will contribute $10,000 toward the cost of the project, which includes removing and repairing loose mortar and bricks, restoring and painting windows on the upper floors, and replacing the brick parapet that was removed years ago.

Launched in 1999, the faade improvement program awards money for front, rear, and side faade improvements for structures within the authority's taxing district.

Owners can apply for grants to receive rebates on up to 50 percent of the total rehabilitation costs or a maximum of $10,000, said Andrea Jones, executive director of the authority.

The improvements paid by the program include painting, cleaning, window and door replacement, masonry repairs, and awning repair and replacement.

The renovations for Martin's Shoe House began after a storm nearly a year ago knocked loose the metal cover that had hidden the brick faade and limestone arched windows for nearly four decades."I think the faade improvement program is a good motivational factor and the improvements that I am making could inspire other owners to make renovations and improvements to their buildings," said Mr. Martin, who is a member of the Downtown Development Authority's board of directors.

Ms. Jones said Mr. Martin was one of six property owners who asked for grant monies before the March deadline.

Among the improvement work receiving funding are the installation of a new awning at Second Chance Boutique on South Monroe and the painting of the faade at the Monroe Club on Front Street.

Mr. Martin said improvements of the 162-year shoe store building will continue as there are plans to renovate the upper floors into apartments.

He said he began planning the renovations with a budget of about $20,000, but the depth of the improvements got more complicated as he got prices and quotes from the contractor.

"I am going with the expensive renovations," he said. "Because I am on the board of directors, I can lead by example and hopefully other downtown business owners will follow suit."

Mr. Martin is the sixth generation of his family to operate the shore store, which has always been located in the building.

It is believed it is one of the oldest continuing businesses in Michigan to operate in the same building.

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