Chris Ware strides swiftly around the Brooklyn showroom and warehouse, conferring with the construction foreman about the heart pine tongue-and-groove ceiling, the brick walls and the glass-block above the large display windows.
Those are just a few of the many details in renovating the 75-year-old building.
“There’s a lot of family history involved in the property,” said Ware, whose late father previously owned the vintage 1940 building at 500 Park St. that first housed an A&P grocery store and then a tire company. The elder Ware moved a Johnstone Supply city sales branch to the site in the 1990s.
Ware bought Johnstone Supply from his father in 2004 and acquired the 500 and 522 Park St. properties, on 1.49 acres, from the family trust this year.
He had promised his father, who died two years ago at the age of 88, he would keep the refrigeration, heating and air conditioning supply business on the block. It’s a convenient location, just off Interstate 95, for contractors around Northeast Florida.
That promise is one of the primary reasons Ware is investing at least $2 million into renovating the structure, which more recently was a tire showroom, warehouse and offices.
“It’s a labor of love for me to do this on property important to the family,” he said.
Ware said his promise to his father was the emotional, sentimental element of making the investment.
The other element is seen clearly out of the big front display windows in the showroom under renovation at Park and Edison streets.
That is the renaissance in Brooklyn, the former distressed area near Downtown that has been redeveloped with apartments, a shopping center anchored by The Fresh Market and a string of trendy restaurants and soon, possibly a boutique hotel.
That places Johnstone Supply in the unfolding path of urban redevelopment, and Ware’s building fits the description of turning the old into new.
“Park Street in the next few years will be totally transformed and I am glad we are able to stay in the area and refurbish the old building and give it new life,” said Ware, CEO of The Ware Group and Johnstone Supply.
Jacksonville architectural historian Wayne Wood intends to visit Ware there this week.
“It’s an interesting part of the streetscape along Park Street and reminiscent of the days when Park Street was a major commercial artery for the Brooklyn neighborhood,” Wood said.
Wood researched the property through city directories and established it had housed an A&P store from at least 1942 through 1960 and possibly after. He said the rounded corners are typical of the late Art Deco and Art Moderne period.
Wood said it’s a typical commercial building for the time. He also said it is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places because it is more than 50 years old.
The main building at 500 Park St. was built in 1940, property records show. Ware’s father bought the multitenant building in 1996 and opened a Johnstone Supply location in the back of it. Other tenants also came and went in the showroom area and the midsection.
The main building that fronts Park Street is the most visible of the renovations under way by Tenant Contractors.
The glass block was replaced above the showroom windows. Old brick is being cleaned and exposed. “We’re going to preserve as much of the brick as possible,” Ware said.
The ceiling in the center of the building lends an authentic ‘40s vibe. The new front showroom’s ceiling will be refurbished with the same. Steel rafters will be cleaned and painted.
Outside, the walls will be painted for a modern retro look, Ware said.
A permit was issued in early June for the $650,000 demolition of the existing offices and construction of the new walls and finishes. That space totals about 26,000 square feet.
While the renovations will restore the look and feel of an older structure, the equipment, plumbing and electrical fixtures and technology will be current and efficient.
Johnstone Supply continues to operate its showroom and customer pick-up in the back of the building. The second phase will include renovating that showroom for use as warehouse space.
The family trust, for which Ware is the trustee, also owns the 1.45-acre 400 block of Park Street. The Johnstone Supply warehouse operates on that block.
It all should be completed by November.
Also on the 400 block is Two Doors Down Restaurant, which leases at 436 Park St. That building housed Catanese Florist for many years.
Printing & Promotional Partners operates on the block, too.
The Ware family set up a Johnstone Supply distribution operation in Florida in 1981.
Its primary Jacksonville location and distribution center operates in Southside at 11710 Central Parkway in the EastPark business center.
The Ware Group, led by CEO Chris Ware, now owns and operates Johnstone Supply branches in 14 Florida cities and three in South Carolina.
Johnstone Supply, based in Portland, Ore., is a cooperative wholesale distributor in the HVACR industry that supplies residential, commercial, refrigeration and facilities maintenance industries.
In the spirit of supporting the industry, Ware and Tenant Contractors are salvaging the old bur working plumbing fixtures, doors and hardware to donate to Beaches Habitat for Humanity.