When Emily and Casey Lewis started looking in downtown Burlington for a larger space to house their successful Owl and Rabbit Gallery they were only thinking about one building.
But after checking out what was available, considering their options and a vision for growth downtown they gave it a second thought, and then a third.
Today the Lewises are the owners of not one, not two, but three buildings on the stretch of Spring Street that connects to Davis Street and Maple Avenue — within sight of May Memorial Library, Impact Alamance and the new May Hosiery Lofts. They have plans for remaking the block with a goal of creating a new connecting point in further developing downtown.
“If we can wake that block up then we can focus on Davis Street,” Emily Lewis says “I would love it if Front Street is doing well and we can bring Davis and Spring streets back. That’s the connecting point for bringing downtown back to life.”
For the Lewises, who also own Beechwood Metal Works on Webb Avenue, making that future starts immediately. Today (Feb. 27, 2020) they closed on the three downtown buildings with former owner William Hudson of Greensboro. The purchase, under the umbrella of Beechwood Family Properties, includes the corner parcel of Davis and Spring streets (404 S. Spring St.) which now houses Company Shops Nighttime Cafe and is the former home of the nightclub Jazz’n’More. Years ago it was The Roasters Cafe, a neat lunchtime spot where fresh coffee was also ground and sold wholesale. The Lewises also purchased part of the property that was formerly Blanchard’s clothing store and the building beside of it, a one-time bank that was most recently a place where gold was bought and sold under the name BJs. The deal does not include the Plageman’s Architecture site that is under the old Blanchard’s sign between Company Shops Nighttime Cafe and what will be the new home of Owl and Rabbit Gallery.
Owl and Rabbit Gallery is currently located at 139 E. Front St., in the most thriving part of Burlington’s evolving downtown. But Emily says the shop had run out of space at its corner location. Nearly 100 artists are affiliated there for display, as well as the cool metal art created by Casey Lewis.
“Moving Owl and Rabbit off of Front Street is a little scary but this is bigger and we will be able to showcase more pieces,” Emily says. “Front Street is a great location but with the additional space we hope to be a big draw on Spring Street. I’m excited to have a bigger place for Owl and Rabbit.”
Casey Lewis says the option to buy three buildings arose and that turned into an opportunity to make a much bigger impact and investment in downtown. “We had already been thinking about what downtown is missing. As we looked at the buildings we could envision what would go in all three,” he says.
Plans for the sites include a bakery in the former bank building. A baker well known in the community is planning to take over that spot, which will specialize in breads and pastries. The opening date is still in the development stages.
“The bakery is a missing puzzle piece downtown,” Emily says. “We think this will be a huge draw on the block.”
The new Owl and Rabbit Gallery, however, will open soon. “We’re one of those people that if we’re going to do it, we’ll make it happen as quickly as possible,” Casey says.
Emily says they hope to have the new Owl and Rabbit Gallery open by the end of March. Moving should not impact the current Front Street location until the very end. “We can upfit from the get-go and put our product in place without taking away from the existing space, then we can finish at the end of the month in one swoop,” Emily says. Ideally, she would like to have the complete move coincide with the second Fourth Friday Art Walk on March 24. The first Fourth Friday Art Walk is Friday (Feb. 28) by the way.
The Lewises have other plans for the block that will come into focus eventually. Tenants in those buildings now — offices and apartments upstairs as well as the Company Shops Nighttime Cafe — will remain and thrive. Eventually Emily would like to turn the second floor of the new Owl and Rabbit Gallery into loft spaces for artists.
“It’s important to have people in offices downtown. The more people who live or work downtown the more people will walk downtown, the more people will eat downtown and shop downtown. That’s as important as bringing people in,” Emily says. “We want something that people will come to daily on that end of the block.”
The Front Street Owl and Rabbit location is owned by Core Properties, which has developed much of Front Street and is behind the new Food Hall scheduled to open this fall in the former Company Shops Market. Wellsley Robinson, president of Core Properties, said a new tenant for the Front Street location is in the process of signing a lease and more information would be available once the paperwork is completed. Robinson also applauded the new development on Spring Street by the Lewises. “It’s exciting to see people starting to invest in downtown,” Robinson said.