Situated in the 2200 block of Larimer Street, the Burlington slid from residential hotel to dilapidated flophouse before, in recent years, standing nearly vacant, boarded up and burned out many times over. Only the now-departed Doi Pharmacy still operated on the corner, though hidden behind layer upon layer of plywood. Winos slept in the doorways, the threat of the wrecking ball hovering around them, until partners Rick Borman and Tom Sundheim bought the building in 1993. With help from the city, the two worked wonders on what had been destined to become another downtown parking lot. The previous owners "got rid of it," Borman says, "and we got a headache."
As private developers who gambled on making the Burlington project fly, the pair seems to be batting 1.000. They took their time with it, using quality materials while working to retain the building's charm --beautiful arched windows and carved stone details decorate the facade, years-old cryptic graffiti remains scratched in the inner entryway, and splendid sixteen-foot ceilings and exposed brick walls adorn the interior. It's funky and functional all at once, and best of all, the affordable loft apartments on the upper floors are being occupied as fast as they can be finished. Plus, a smart collection of first-floor retail tenants includes two art galleries, Sundheim's own architectural salvage outlet and Rue 22, an eclectic shop selling antique and rustic furnishings and one-of-a-kind accessories.
Some of those tenants hope to see the street become a destination for casual shopping and dining. But for now, there's a pioneer spirit up and down the block. Ron Phelps of the RedShift Gallery, for instance, packed up his Wazee Street framing shop and exhibition space after a decade there and moved into the Burlington earlier this year. For Phelps, there's no looking back. He likes the fact that there's still a sense of transition in the area. "Since I've been here, I've only had one homeless person walk into an opening," he says. But he also sees street people as essentially harmless. "We're the only building around with no bars in the window," he adds.
A sense of community among Burlington tenants also helps allay security worries, though there are no organized meetings or committees. "We have a secret beer club," Phelps admits, but that's all. He uses the services of all the nearby businesses and sends other people over to them as well. One such business is Charlie's Second Hand Store, a used-tool emporium adjacent to the Burlington that's the undisputed old-timer on the street. The store remains virtually unchanged after more than fifty years in business; the only recent improvement is a swamp cooler, which replaced a ceiling fan after this summer's heat wave. But even at Charlie's, the brightening of the block seems like a good sign. "They took the worst building on the block and turned it into the best," says Ron Shiroff, who works there.
The neighborhood's shifting look may best be represented by Lucy Allen and Barry Jelinski, who as partners in Rue 22 call their unique interior-design concept "urban country." Meant to evoke a cushy tranquility, juxtaposing older pieces in a more streamlined setting, the shop seems to reflect a whole new ambience that's developing along the Bur-lington's block. "It's like shabby Zen," says Jelinski, standing in a hurly-burly of unfinished bureaus and shelves set on the handsome floor made of quartersawn wood tiles that he laid himself. He and Allen decided a few weeks ago to restructure Rue 22 the same way they'd done everything else--on the spur of the moment. They've torn apart their old displays and repainted the faux-finished walls.
When will the new look be unveiled? "Tomorrow," he says hopefully.
They'll have to be ready soon: It's Allen and Jelinski who cooked up the idea for the Ballpark Market, a laid-back monthly street fair that debuts on the block this Saturday morning. Patterned after similar urban flea markets in New York and Paris, the event--featuring a hand-picked selection of quality vendors hawking everything from vintage clothing to fresh-cut flowers--is slated to return once next month before breaking for the winter. If all goes well, Allen and Jelinski hope to revive the market from May through October of next year. "As long as we have fun. When that stops, we're not going to do it anymore," says Jelinski, who would just like to build furniture and leave the promoting to someone else.
Luckily, Chuck Sullivan, an event-planning pro who lives nearby, happened in one day. Sullivan, excited by Allen and Jelinski's plan, used his promotional know-how to set the market in motion. Allen and Jelinski credit him for getting on the horn and stirring up interest when they were tied up with the business of running a store.