Kevin Korpela and Megan Curtes Korpela pose outside Downtown Grocery Tuesday, where work has begun on what will be a newly renovated Downtown Grocery space.
The original Downtown Grocery likely will reopen by next summer, as renovation work on the fire-damaged building began Tuesday.
The long-awaited project will expand the store with a second-story dining loft and larger kitchen, say owners Kevin Korpela and Megan Curtes Korpela.
Planning started shortly after the Korpelas decided to relocate their store temporarily into Wausau Center mall a few months after it was forced to close. A refuse bin fire that started behind the building in September 2015 severely damaged the interior of Downtown Grocery, the businesses above it, and Sweets on Third in the adjacent building.
Downtown Grocery’s interior will be gutted of anything that can’t be cleaned. The exterior will be wrapped with a steel cage to structurally support the century-plus old bricks. Some kitchen equipment can be re-used, and parts of the old tin ceiling can be salvaged, Kevin Korpela says. The original store had about 3,000 square feet; the kitchen expansion adds 300 and the loft another 800.
In the complicated process to save the historic downtown structure on Third Street, its owner, Dave Johnson, donated the building to the city, which then donated it to the Korpelas. They had been in the process of buying the building when the fire struck. The Korpelas had planned an expansion/renovation, but the fire gave an opportunity to reshape their plans.
The Korpelas’ daughter was six months old when the fire struck. It was a tough time but public support helped them push through. “We’re part of this community, and we want to continue serving this community,” Megan Curtes Korpela says.
Kevin Korpela, an architect by trade, says he can’t commit to a completion date because of the many variables, but he expects the project will take less than the nine months that went into planning.