While some people may see a morbid link to it, the fact that the Komorowski building at 2258 Professor Ave. in Tremont used to be a funeral home has never creeped out the building’s new owner Dave Ferrante.
“From the moment I bought it, I never experienced any negative feelings,” he says. “It has a peaceful feel to it. And the positive part is I got 26 parking spots.”
Ferrante bought the building last year to re-open Visible Voice Books, which had closed three years ago at its prior Kenilworth Ave. location. The new location—on the second floor of the two-story building—is 30 percent larger than his old location, going from 900 square feet to 1,600 square feet. Other selling points include on-site parking and a steady stream of pedestrians.
“The old store was on a nice street in Tremont, but it didn’t get the foot traffic,” Ferrante explains. “Here, we’re close to [establishments like] Banyan Tree and Dante, and there’s better traffic. And, it’s kind of fate to put a bookstore on the corner of Professor and Literary.”
The improved visibility was a deciding factor to buy the building and re-open Visible Voice. “We had the right concept, but the location hampered me in terms of foot traffic,” Ferrante recalls of the old location. “This was a serendipitous discovery. The more I was away from it [the store], the more I realized I missed it. I started making lists of books a month after we closed [three years ago].”
Today, Wednesday, Sept. 27, the store will make its official grand opening, although Ferrante soft-opened the doors last week. The new, larger space allows him to offer 30 percent more books than before, as well as add a selection of magazines. Of course, Ferrante can special order any book he doesn’t carry. “We can get it in two to three days,” he promises.
The new Visible Voice Books also offers a café for customers. “We always served beer and wine, but it was incidental,” says Ferrante. “We added pastries and coffee, and we now have seven or eight tables for about 20 to 25 people in the café.”
Ferrante has made it a family affair by joining with his cousin, Mike Griffin, who opened Crust Pizza Kitchen in August on the building's first floor. (Crust was also formerly located on Kenilworth as a mostly take-out shop.) Griffin’s new 1,600-square-foot space allowed him to expand to a full menu with appetizers and pasta, including homemade ricotta gnocchi and subs crafted on homemade bread made in their downtown location. The new location also boasts a full bar and dine-in capability.
Griffin agrees with Ferrante that the location offers much better exposure for both shops—especially with events like Tremont Art and Cultural Festival, Walkabout Tremont, and activities in Lincoln Park. Even in the past five weeks we’ve seen an uptick with these events,” Griffin says. “Before we were kind of off the beaten path, so no one would stop. It was time for a change.”
Before Ferrante and Griffin could open their doors, they faced a lot of work on the building to bring it up to code, make it ADA-compliant, and give it an overall facelift. “We took it down to the bones,” says Ferrante. “We drywalled it and plumbed it. There’s no sense of a funeral home.”
Griffin agrees with Ferrante that there is nothing creepy about operating in a former funeral home—especially now that it’s renovated. “It really wasn’t a big deal,” he assures. “The construction guys never had any bad vibes.”
According to Griffin, the only remaining evidence of the funeral home was old draperies and carpet, which are now long gone. “We gutted everything down to the studs,” recalls Griffin. “We did a total renovation—even the staircases and railings. Everything was redone and brought up to code.”
Ferrante relied on the help of architect Brian Fabo for the layout of Visible Voice and Denise Dunlap for interior design; Jeff Ries designed bookshelves, tabletops, and benches for the store. Kevin Double of Double Enterprises was the construction manager on the whole project.
Future plans for the building include making good use of the 1,200-square-foot basement, which Ferrante has already dug out to expose the front section, and putting in a patio courtyard. Griffin’s plans include adding a brunch menu, daily specials, and special offerings using homemade burrata cheese and smoked meats. He’d also like to start offering wine pairings, beer-pizza pairings, and brunch-mimosa pairings. “Now that we have alcohol, we can play around a little more,” he says. “We should start getting some pretty cool stuff.”