Couple breathes new life into landmark city building

VERGENNES — In December of 2012 Boulder, Colo., couple Bob Feuerstein and Lillian Kennedy bought Vergennes landmark Kennedy Brothers Marketplace from members of Kennedy’s family.
Before the deal, Kennedy and Feuerstein had partial ownership of the 41,724-square-foot Main Street building that consists of a larger brick wing with a wooden-frame white addition.
Afterward, the couple owned all of what was once a dairy operation and then went through a series of transformations — into a factory, a gift shop blended with dozens of craft booths and a second-level antiques center, and finally into a more-empty-than-not rental property that needed restoration.
Now, after almost three years, Feuerstein and Kennedy can look back at a decision that has breathed life into one of the city’s iconic properties.  
“Overall, it’s going fine. We’re not losing money. That’s a good thing,” Feuerstein said last week while sitting in the couple’s newest venture, the KB Café. “I pay my employees more than I make myself, but hopefully that will change next year.”
This year, Feuerstein and Kennedy have opened their café; signed up new tenants that include the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union central office and an art therapist; are in the final stages of lining up another office tenant, a large-animal veterinarian; and have almost completed work on a 3,700-square-foot co-working space for which they will sell short- and long-term memberships to entrepreneurs who need desks and amenities, but not a full office.
Other tenants include Vermont Sun Fitness, Vintage Fitness, Chocolate Hollow, Green Mountain Wireless and accounting firm Tapia and Huckabay, P.C.
Feuerstein said he and Kennedy expected a challenge when they moved to Vergennes from Boulder to take on the project, but other than typical construction delays nothing has really surprised them.
“I knew there would be hassles and pain and suffering,” he said. “It’s taking longer than I would have liked, of course, because we’ve been in construction for a year, and before that we were doing a lot of demolition. I did a lot of demolition. I pulled out all of the old steam pipes, 1,500 feet of pipe, I think.”
If anything, said Kennedy, she is surprised by how much they have enjoyed the process. For one, the community support has been heartwarming.
“People come in every day and tell us their stories and memories,” she said. “That’s really fun. That’s fun for me, because for me it’s a lot about honoring my parents.”
Before the move, Kennedy worked fulltime as an artist, and her works join those of local artists on the café walls — the couple allows artists to hang their efforts for free. Kennedy also contributes other touches, such as mini-murals on the staircase risers to the café’s second level. She said she has found an outlet to express her artistic self at Kennedy Brothers.
“I was a fulltime artist before, and yet I feel this is so creative,” Kennedy said. “Designing and opening a café, that’s a very creative act.”
Feuerstein and Kennedy had tried, but failed, to find a restaurant tenant for the south end of the building. Believing it was critical to offer food at Kennedy Brothers, they started their own café. It offers soups, salads and sandwiches with prices ranging from $4 to $7, Vermont Coffee Company coffee, Stash Teas and Lavazza espressos, lattés and cappuccinos.
“It was always a destination building,” Kennedy said. “If it was just a collection of tenants, it was going to feel like a collection of tenants. But the hearth is always a center of a building.”
Feuerstein said the space is ideal for a café, and they will encourage customers — even groups such as book clubs — to stay and relax and make use of the free Wi-Fi. They plan to open an outdoor terrace off the south side next summer.
“It’s a great space, 33-foot ceilings, the old boiler,” Feuerstein said. “I’ve got room for 75 seats. I’ve got fantastic space, and I’ve got high-speed Wi-Fi.”
They opened the café in late July.
“It’s been growing steadily ever since. We get more people, new people, all the time,” Feuerstein said.
The new co-working space is at the other end of the brick building, past the structure’s new entrance that faces Main Street and a new parking lot with defined curb cuts and LED lighting.
Like the café and the ANwSU and other first-floor offices, the co-working area has new insulated concrete flooring and air conditioning; the building also has a new roof, and one of the first things Feuerstein and Kennedy did was install a high-efficiency heating system.
DOROTHY ANGUISH IS the manager of the new KB Café in the Kennedy Brothers building in Vergennes.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Those who buy long- or short-term memberships for that space, dubbed KB Coworking, will be entitled to desks and chairs, shared use of three meeting rooms that can be combined into larger spaces, Wi-Fi, a copier, and a kitchen and break space.
Feuerstein will move Kennedy Brothers’ office there, and said there is already interest in the 12 to 15 available slots the space can accommodate, even before he has done any marketing.
“I’ve got one private office tenant and a bunch of people who say they’ll move in when we open,” Feuerstein said.
To the rear of the co-working area is a one-story addition to the brick building that Feuerstein said has drawn the interest of at least one prospective tenant. Expanding the co-working concept into that addition, which is a little larger than 2,000 square feet, remains a possibility.
Feuerstein also has enough interest in Kennedy Brothers’ white building, which is attached to the coworking space and the one-story addition, to start thinking about renovation.
“We’re talking to possible tenants, but I won’t be doing any work on the white building until I sign a lease,” Feuerstein said. “I’ve asked for some estimates from contractors.”
Kennedy said area residents might find some of the possibilities exciting.
“The people who are looking, it would be just fantastic if it all came to pass,” she said.
Overall, Feuerstein said, calls from prospective tenants are picking up in recent weeks.
“We’re getting more interest from prospective tenants in the last month than we had before,” he said. “We think some of that’s the café.”
And that makes that move made back in December of 2012 look even better.
“We have a lot of risk in it,” Feuerstein said, “but it’s been good.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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