In June, unrelated accidental fires struck two longtime Metro Lansing businesses —first Bangkok House, a Thai restaurant just north of downtown Lansing, then Kean’s Store Co., a department store in downtown Mason. In both cases, the owners fought through the adversity of their situations to rebuild their establishments, much to the relief of their passionate respective fan bases.
“When we reopened on Saturday, I swear every single person that came in that door told me how glad they were that we (didn’t close),” said Teresa Wren, owner/operator of Kean’s, 406 S. Jefferson St. “I’ve never been hugged so much in my life. People have said they were lost for six months.”
On June 21, a fire broke out in the basement of the Baja Grille, a restaurant next door to Kean’s. It destroyed much of the main floor of the restaurant and caused smoke damage throughout Kean’s historic building, which was built in 1887. Wren’s grandfather, Gus Kean, opened K&M 5&10 Cent Store — the first incarnation of Kean’s — nearby in 1928. He moved into the building on Jefferson Street a year later.
Wren, 58, has worked at the store for 31 years and bought it from her father in 2000. After the fire, she first estimated that it would take about six weeks to reopen. But it took longer than anticipated to remove ruined merchandise, restore the interior and reorder new items. Wren estimates total damages, including merchandise loss, at over $1.5 million.
“We lost everything,” she said. “Fortunately, the insurance covered it, and now everything is brand new and up to code. We weren’t very (ADA compliant) before, and now we’ve got so much more room on the floor. It’s got a lot more flow, the colors are brighter and there’s more light. This is the best this shape this building has ever been in.”
In addition to new plumbing, new electrical work and new floors and ceilings, Wren upgraded the bathrooms, the front doors and all the windows. She kept the store layout very similar to how it had been, reusing some of the same display units and returning the popcorn machine to the entrance. She was even able to rehire all 21 of her former workers, whom she credits as being “the lifeblood” of the business. Work was split into three stages, with the final stage being the main entranceway.
“We finished installing the candy and toys in that whole front section on Friday, and we opened first thing the next day,” Wren said. “I missed my goal (of Nov. 9) and the four biggest (shopping) days of the year, including Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, but business has been unbelievable. We’ve actually been busier than a normal Christmas rush.”
Wren said business has waxed and waned over the years, following the economy, but being so far from the malls has insulated Kean’s from traditional urban retail woes — and even the rise of online commerce. She predicts that this three-generation business is likely to make it at least one more.
“My son and daughter (have expressed interest) in the store, so we’ll see,” Wren said. “Over the years, I’ve had to deal with all kinds of issues with this old building — the heat, the plumbing, electrical stuff. If my kids take it over, the only things they’ll have to worry about are the merchandise and the marketing. Everything else is going to last for a long time.”
Meanwhile, Bangkok House, 420 E. Saginaw St., is set to reopen within three weeks. On June 21, an electrical fire broke out, causing extensive damage to the building. Chris Buck is the business manager for McCardel Restoration, which is handling the renovation work.
“The public is going to be really impressed when they see the changes,” Buck said. “The owners envisioned something very special. It looks incredible.”
Buck said the booths and chairs were able to be restored, but everything else inside will be brand new — ceilings, flooring (including both carpeted and tiled areas), bathrooms and kitchen. Complicated insurance issues waylaid the process, he added, but once all the red tape was cut, restoration work has been fairly straightforward. For his part, Buck said this wasn’t just another job.
“I’ve been proud to serve on this project, helping out a business that takes pride (in itself),” he said. “This place is an institution. There’s been this massive outpouring of support as longtime customers see we’re close to being ready to open. They’ve been taping love letters on the door. I’ve never even heard of anything like that happening.”
Not inconvenient: In Convenience
Iggy’s In Convenience opened inside the Lansing City Market this week. The grocery store is owned and operated by Igor Jurkovic, who also runs Mediteran Café and Catering inside the Capital National Building and manages the kitchen for the Exchange/Omar’s Show Bar. He said In Convenience will appeal to the growing demographic of Lansing’s urban dwellers.
“I know people who live in the (adjacent) Marketplace Apartments, and they tell me there’s nowhere to buy milk or eggs downtown,” Jurkovic says. “There are a lot of people moving down here right now. I saw a gap that needed to be filled and I’m filling it.”
Kean’s Store Co. 406 S. Jefferson St., Mason 10 a.m.–8 p.m. Monday-Saturday; noon– 5 p.m. Sunday (517) 676-5144, keansstore.com
Iggy’s In Convenience (Inside Lansing City Market) 325 City Market Drive, Lansing 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, closed Monday (517) 402-6791, lansingcitymarket.com