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American Artisan makes Carlisle homeDowntown landlord issues renovation challenge to peers

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Pam Fleck displays some of the items she'll carry in her new shop, the American Artisan Gallery, in Carlisle. Fleck and her husband recently renovated the building and its storefront for the gallery that will carry hand-made items from around the midstate and the U.S. Photo/Jim T. Ryan
Pam Fleck displays some of the items she'll carry in her new shop, the American Artisan Gallery, in Carlisle. Fleck and her husband recently renovated the building and its storefront for the gallery that will carry hand-made items from around the midstate and the U.S. Photo/Jim T. Ryan

Pam Fleck is investing in both sides of Carlisle's downtown business district.

As a building owner, she's putting thousands of dollars into the renovation of 35 N. Hanover St. to improve the ground floor shop space, as well as to improve the apartments above it.

But this weekend she also is opening the American Artisan Gallery, a shop selling handcrafted items from artists in Central Pennsylvania and around the country.

The gallery will have even more inventory in coming weeks, Fleck said.

"Right now, we're communicating with the artists and getting them to bring their art in," she said.

Her gallery, a revival of a vacant storefront that was a department store in 1910, comes at a time when other businesspeople are challenging their peers to take an active hand in the borough's downtown.

For Fleck, the task of turning a neglected 113-year-old building into a modern crafts gallery was enough to occupy her time for the past year.

The shop area had to be gutted, and the front of the building was extended to the end of the mannequin windows. Extensive plumbing, electrical and structural improvements also had to be done, including fixing a dangerous staircase for the upstairs tenants.

"That was one of the places where we're glad a good person got it," said Glenn White, executive director of the Downtown Carlisle Association.

DCA gave Fleck a grant to help with signs that meet Carlisle historical guidelines, he said. The grant is for half the cost, or a maximum of $300, toward the signs.

Now Fleck is focused on finding artists to fill the gallery. Several are on board, including Dave Bowman of Mechanicsburg, who makes salvage dolls. The large figurines are fashioned from wood salvaged from old buildings or that gnarled oak tree in the backyard.

Another local artist is Thomas Platt of Wormleysburg, who makes custom pens under the label Turnmite Pens, as well as other specialty items.

There also are artists from New Jersey and Maryland and a rug maker from West Virginia, and Fleck contributes hand-painted wooden items to the mix. Products will include stained glass, wood crafts, painting, leather and wool products.

"They're all very grateful for having someone to sell for them," she said of the artists.

American Artisan also is planning an online store, she said.

"I think online stores are one of the bloodlines for supporting a small store these days, especially if you're going to have slower months in the winter," Fleck said.

North Hanover could become a focal point of downtown, especially as redevelopment begins on former industrial sites on that side of town, White said.

Many of Carlisle's downtown retail locations need some work if the business district is going to grow, he said.

"It's going to take retailers with some vision and floor plans where they're able to shift some things around," he said.

Others think it's going to take entrepreneurial landlords to make the changes that will bring back downtown business. At least one of them, Shaun R. Foote, president of Carlisle's Foote Capital Mortgage Co. and part owner of the converted bank that houses event business The Vault, is taking matters into his own hands.

Foote and his real estate company, Ralph James Properties, acquired 19 N. Hanover St. in November and plan to renovate it this year for stores and offices. The building is the home of the Carlisle Arts Learning Center, which plans to move to Pomfret Street this year, Foote said.

He's renovating the building inside and out and plans to "vanilla box" the store area so prospective tenants will have minimal work to make it fit their needs. He did not have a timeline for when the renovation would be complete.

Foote Capital Mortgage considered moving outside Carlisle when it was looking for more office space last year, Foote said. Instead, Foote bought the North Hanover location and plans to move into part of the 15,000-square-foot renovated building, he said.

It doesn't stop there.

"We're definitely open to buying several more buildings," Foote said. In fact, he's actively looking for those next purchases.

The initiative Fleck and other landlords took in recent years to renovate downtown spaces inspired him to do the same. And he'd like to see other owners join the effort or move on.

"I'd like to challenge the building owners downtown to renovate it or sell it to someone like us who will renovate it," Foote said.

Renovating aging buildings is what Carlisle needs to bring more economic activity to its downtown, which benefits everyone, he said.

Downtowns are an ever-changing part of a region, but today they're becoming central social districts rather than strictly business districts, White said. There's opportunity to meld those two worlds, he said.

"If you're looking for something new, you're looking to be surprised, you're looking for an experience, you'll come downtown," he said.

Jim T. Ryan

Jim T. Ryan

Jim T. Ryan covers Cumberland County, manufacturing, distribution, transportation and logistics. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jimr@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JimTRyanCPBJ.

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