It's been a long, hard winter for the businesses and residential tenants of 95-117 Main Street, but with the start of spring comes new building management and hopes for new economic growth.
With a bid for $300,000, Stamatos Property Management, a company based in Jamaica Plain, MA, bought the structure, a hulking three-story building better known as the Commercial Block from IB Property Management. The building houses 10 of Main Street's storefronts, including , , and and has 16 apartments on the second floor.
Since the property was foreclosed upon by a Florida bank last August, tenants have watched the building succumb to neglect as piles of trash and unpaid utility bills make occupancy increasingly frustrating.
"When you don't know the fate of the building, you don't know the fate of the business," said Marlene Gagnon, owner of Harlequin's, a small costume shop that has survived in the structure for more than 26 years. Gagnon described a difficult season as a tenant in limbo dealing with everything from lack of heating to the challenges of handling a water leak on the floor above her without management. "It's been difficult."
The Woonsocket Call reported last month that residential tenants had been given until May 1 to move out before eviction.
Christ Stamatos, a property manager for the company that purchased the building last week said he hopes to keep all of the remaining tenants. "We're trying to work with everyone to make sure they can stay there and not need to relocate," Stamatos said.
Built in 1902, the building is on the National Register of Historic Places and once housed a thriving marketplace on the now vacant third floor. The building's National Register nomination form states that "from 1902 until the late 1930s, the Commercial Block was occupied by a series of over 60 different tenants, including clothing, jewelry and variety stores, professional service-based companies, and/or individual proprietors." A city directory from 1962 lists 27 shops and professional offices including doctors, lawyers and real estate agencies, as well as and Boy Scouts of America offices.
"It's a beautiful building. Our plan is to restore it, including interior renovations and updates to the heating system," Stamatos said. He envisions the building as a strong engine in the revival of Main Street. "We need to sit down with the city and see what we can do to create more business in the area."
The property manager explained how a new set of third-floor tenants to patronize the local markets could help to attract more businesses. "We're looking at multiple options, but apartments would get more people living here and spending money in the square," Stamatos said.
Gagnon confirmed that she has seen a maintenance man for the new management company around the property this week and has heard work being done above her on the second floor.
"I just hope they don't raise the rent to something I can't afford, because I don't know what I'd do," Gagnon said.
Stamatos said he does not foresee a need for rent increases anytime soon. "I think the rent is about what it should be right now. We're looking to stabilize the building and even once things get going, it wouldn't be more than $25 or $50."
Gagnon is hopeful the new owners will be able to provide the building with some long overdue care. "It's sad. There's a lot of repair that needs to be done here," she said.
Asked if he finds the magnitude or scope of the required restoration intimidating, Stamatos explained that his property management company has handled projects of similar size in the past.
"I'm hoping the city is willing to work with us as we are with them to help get the area back to life again."