When Alan Cottle flies, he often takes his passengers on missions that are out of this world.
Cottle, 59, of Lake Geneva, works as a pilot for NASA and flies the space program’s Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy aircraft— which is a “specialized performance” 747 airplane that is used for scientific research.
The aircraft— also known as SOFIA— takes a team of scientists about 45,000 feet above the Earth’s atmosphere to study stars, planets, galaxies, blackholes, magnetic particles and cosmic winds.
SOFIA features a telescope that is 9 feet in diameter and other specialized equipment that allows the scientists to conduct their research.
“We have the ability to look at what no other telescope can do— ground-base or space-base,” NASA pilot Andrew Barry said.
The aircraft recently was involved with a mission in which water was found on the moon; however, Cottle said he was not involved with that study.
Cottle began working as for NASA in January and served as an aircraft commanded for his first two SOFIA flights in August.
He said, as aircraft commander, he is responsible for the aircraft and its crew and making sure it is flying at an appropriate height.
“Most of my job is to fly the airplane smoothly, get it as high up as we possibly can, so we can see good and hold good, and maintain speed,” Cottle said.
He said, during one mission, scientists studied the magnetic fields of dust clouds located in the Orion constellation.
“They believe these magnetic fields are forming stars,” Cottle said.
During another mission, crews studied different galaxies and blackholes.
“Quite frankly, sometimes they’re looking at things I don’t understand,” Cottle said. “It’s so complicated.”
Cottle said most SOFIA missions last between eight to 10 hours. He said, despite being about 45,000 feet in the air, the crews do not have to wear any special equipment.
“We all wear flight suits and the NASA stuff,” Cottle said. “Some of the scientists just wear regular clothes.”
The SOFIA program is based out of NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California. The aircraft’s flights take off and return at an airbase facility in Palmdale, California.
“We’re not flying from L.A. to Chicago. We’re not flying from Point A to Point B,” Barry said. “We’re just taking one big sweeping arch across the sky. We’re just looking at one celestial object or a couple.”
Cottle said because of the coronavirus several safety precautions have been put in place for each flight.
He said each flight is limited to 14 crew members, and they are required to wear face masks during the entire flight, and only one crew member can get something to eat or drink at a time.
Cottle said— before each flight— crew members are required to have their temperature taken and they have to complete mask-wearing training.
“It’s NASA, so you can imagine that it’s pretty technical,” he said.
Raquel Cottle, Alan’s wife, said she is proud of her husband flying for NASA, as she feels it is a great career opportunity for him.
She said her husband has shared stories of his flights when he has returned home.
“It’s exciting for us,” Raquel Cottle said. “It’s NASA. His father did some work for NASA, so it’s kind of full circle for him.”
Cottle said he has enjoyed flying for NASA and working with the scientists and other crew members.
“It’s a great organization,” Cottle said. “I don’t think I’ve been involved in any other organization where you look around and you see the quality of pilots, flight engineers, scientists and trainers. They’re tip-top.”
Cottle said one of the more difficult aspects of the job is when the aircraft hits turbulence, which shut downs the telescope for several minutes and causes scientists to lose sight of the object they were researching.
“If you’ve been waiting five years to do this and you lost 10 minutes of your time, you’re upset,” Cottle said. “That 10 minutes may have been the only time that thing in space was available to you, and you can’t get that time back.”
Cottle said he flew the final SOFIA mission of the year in August. He said the aircraft currently is in Hamburg, Germany for maintenance work and will remain stationed there until the program’s next mission next spring.
Cottle said he is set to fly the spring mission, which will include NASA scientists and scientists from Deutsches Zentrum fur Luftund Raumfahrt, which is Germany’s aerospace program.
He also will pilot a SOFIA mission during the summer, which will fly out of Christ Church, New Zealand.
Before working for NASA, Cottle was a fighter pilot for the U.S. Airforce for about six years, then worked as a commercial pilot for American Airlines for about 24 years.
Cottle said he learned about the SOFIA program from pilots he worked with in the U.S. Airforce.
“They said, ‘You should really come out and try this,’” Cottle said. “I didn’t think I would have a chance to get hired. I mean it’s NASA. I was fortunate enough to get invited out, and they hired me.”
Cottle began training as a NASA pilot in January.
Barry said, as part of the training— which takes about four weeks to complete— pilots attend classroom instruction, practice in a simulator and fly with an instructor.
He said most NASA pilots have previous flying experience with the military or a commercial airline.
“That’s the norm rather than the exception,” Barry said. “People come here with thousands and thousands of hours with flying dozens of planes under their belts.”
Barry said he has not had an opportunity to fly with Cottle on a mission, but he has worked with him on a flight simulator.
“He has a wealth of experience as do all of our pilots,” Barry said. “I look forward to returning to normalcy, like we all do, and getting to know him better as an individual and fly with him.”
Cottle said he became interested in working as a pilot during his childhood when his father worked as an aerial space engineer for NASA’s Mercury and Gemini projects.
“So this has been my whole life,” Cottle said. “This is like a 50-year realization of a dream for me.”
Raquel Cottle said she and her husband met while she worked as a flight attendant for American Airlines.
She said even though Alan Cottle can be gone for about a month because of his work with NASA, she realizes it is a part of the job.
“We’re use to it. We’ve both worked in the airline industry,” Raquel Cottle said. “Working for NASA, it’s kind of the cherry on top of his career.”
Besides working for NASA, Cottle conducts charter flights for businesses and corporations.
Cottle and his wife also operate a farm in Lake Geneva, in which they raise horses, mules, chickens and cattle.
“I ride my horse on my off days, and I ride a 747 on my work days,” Cottle said.
Collection: Lake Geneva storefront emerges from historic preservation squabble
The owners of Brick & Mortar in downtown Lake Geneva are facing backlash toward their plan to demolish a property they own in a historic district.
Business owners Thomas and Kathy George want to tear down the original Brick & Mortar outlet at 832 Geneva St. and replace it with a new two-story retail building.
The couple presented their plans Sept. 17 to the Lake Geneva Plan Commission.
Scott Lowell, owner of Lowell Management Services Inc., who was representing the Georges, said the current furniture store and showroom would be replaced with a furniture retail business and high-end coffee shop with gathering spaces.
Lowell said the 5,600-square-foot building would be surrounded by another 2,900 square feet of green space and outdoor seating areas.
“The key theme would be a destination place where the retail operation goes into the coffee shop and kind of melts together with the informal gathering spaces inside and the gathering spaces outside,” he said.
The plan ran into immediate opposition, largely because it calls for demolishing a building in Lake Geneva’s historic Maple Park neighborhood.
Ken Etten, chairman for the Lake Geneva Historic Commission, said many well known Lake Geneva residents lived in the building before it was used for retail space.
“Once a building is demolished, it’s gone forever,” Etten said. “And it will only exist in photos in a history book or in people’s memories.”
Thomas and Kathy George opened their store in 2009, later adding a second Brick & Mortar outlet on the other side of downtown at 222 Center St.
After about 90 minutes of discussion, the plan commission voted to postpone action on the issue and continue deliberations in October. The vote to delay was 4-2, with Mayor Tom Hartz among those voting “no.”
Hartz later said he voted against delaying because he thought most of the commission members were ready to reject the proposal.
“Sometimes we just need to make tough decisions,” he said, “instead of kicking it down the road.”
Thomas George told the commissioners that the existing building has issues with its foundation.
George also said the proposed new building and new business would attract younger visitors to the community.
“I’m going to be 73. I’m not the one you’re trying to draw to this town,” he said. “You need the people who are vibrant and who are going to come in the future — your children and beyond.”
Members of the plan commission, however, voiced reservations about the Brick & Mortar proposal.
Commissioner Michael Krajovic said he worries that the main focus of the new business would end up being a coffee shop.
“How many coffee shops do we have downtown?,” Krajovick asked. “Is that really a high demand use for that area?”
Alderman Doug Skates, another commission member, said he is opposed to bulldozing the existing structure.
“It’s one of my favorite buildings,” Skates said. “It’s a great space.”
Commissioner Sarah Hill described the new building design as barn-like structure, saying she would rather have something that resembles other downtown properties.
“It’s not what our residents are looking for,” Hill said. “I’m not sure it’s what our visitors are looking for.”
George said different is exactly what he is hoping for.
“I’ve watched the businesses that have come into town that are different,” he said. “Guess what they all have in common — people coming in.”
Lowell said the owners are willing to donate the old building to a nonprofit organization that would be willing to move it.
“It is difficult to move,” Lowell said. “But it could be moved if anyone wanted to do it.”
The Maple Park Historic District was the first neighborhood platted in Lake Geneva, and in 2005 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Throughout the district, homes and businesses proudly display markers commemorating the neighborhood’s history that dates back generations.
With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that the proposal to tear down the Brick & Mortar building located at 832 Geneva St. is being met with fierce opposition.
The owners of the building, Thomas and Kathy George, have brought plans to the city to bulldoze it and to build something modern.
The Georges are making a decision based on what will best fit the needs of their business goals, and nobody should fault them for that.
However, the city should also look at its long-term strategy, and it should place preserving historical buildings high on its list.
If you look at past pictures of the city, we have evidence of historic structures that were demolished, and that most people in town wish were still here.
The Frank Lloyd Wright hotel was replaced in the 1970s with the two tallest buildings in the area. A historic railroad depot was also demolished.
In both those locations, we offer visitors and residents signs that discuss the historic significance of the buildings that once existed on the site.
That’s not what tourist are looking for in a quaint community.
Visitors and residents in Lake Geneva care about its history. If you need evidence of this, look no further than the investment taxpayers made in the downtown Geneva Theater.
The proposal to tear down the Brick & Mortar building makes sense from a private business standpoint, but it doesn’t make sense for Lake Geneva.
Ken Etten, chairman of the Lake Geneva Historic Preservation Commission, made a simple, but important point during the last city plan commission meeting.
“Once a building is demolished, it’s gone forever,” Etten said. “And it will only exist in photos in a history book, or in people’s memories.”
This is a teachable moment for the city. As a result of this proposal, the city should review its ordinances and ensure the municipal code protects buildings in the city’s historic district from wrecking balls.
This is an opportunity for the city to engage the community in seeking input on this topic. There’s plenty of people in this area passionate about preserving history, and this could be an opportunity to direct that passion in the right place.
The Regional News editorial board consists of General Manager Robert Ireland, Editor Scott Williams and community members Patrick Quinn and Elizabeth Lupo-DiVito.
The owner of Brick & Mortar is offering the store’s original building for free to anyone who is willing to relocate it.
Business owner Thomas George wants to clear the way for building a new two-story retail store at 832 Geneva St., where the furniture and home furnishings business has operated since 2009.
Historic preservation advocates have opposed demolishing the existing Brick & Mortar store.
So George is extending an offer to anyone interested in saving the building: Haul it away, and it is yours for free.
“I’m not even asking a penny for it,” he said. “I don’t want any money for it. They can have it.”
Some potential takers are already showing interest.
Scott Lowell of Lowell Management Services, Inc., who is representing George, said moving the building would be difficult because of the deteriorated condition of the foundation. He said the chimney also would have to be removed.
“But there’s a number of people who are interested in doing it,” Lowell said.
The owners of Brick & Mortar are seeking city approval to raze the Geneva Street site and build a new two-story retail building that would also include a coffee shop and outdoor seating.
However, the property is located in Lake Geneva’s historic Maple Park neighborhood, and several people have expressed opposition to bulldozing the old building.
At an Oct. 15 meeting of the Lake Geneva Plan Commission, Alderman Doug Skates said he wanted to hold off on any final answers about the project, to see if someone takes up the offer to relocate the old store.
“I would like to drag my feet and hold it off and see if we can find a place to put this house,” Skates said. “I’m opposed to knocking it down.”
Resident Stan Redmer also urged the plan commission to find a way of preserving the Brick & Mortar facility.
Redmer said many people visit Lake Geneva because of its historic buildings.
“I don’t want to see old buildings torn down,” he said. “We have to maintain and keep Lake Geneva as a place to come to.”
George first presented his new plans for 832 Geneva St. at a September plan commission meeting. He said the new structure would draw new tourists to Lake Geneva with its combination of shopping and a high-end coffee shop with gathering spaces and outdoor seating.
After some plan commission members said they did not like the original design, George presented a redesign Oct. 15 resembling more of a residential home with tall glass windows.
Plan Commission member Ted Horne said he likes the new design for the proposed building.
“For me, I think this is a good plan,” Horne said.
George said repairing the existing building for the proposed redevelopment is not an option, because it would be too costly.
He said the back porch needs to be redone and the foundation leaks.
A couple of groups have approached him about acquiring and relocating the building, he said, including one group that wanted to move the home to a new spot along Geneva Street. But the group ran into opposition because its plan would have required cutting down some trees, he said.
Ken Etten, chairman of the Lake Geneva Historic Preservation Commission, suggested that George leave the building where it is and instead relocate his business to a different place on Main Street or Broad Street. Etten said he does not want the historic building demolished.
“If you destroy what is unique about a community in the name of commercialism, it is no longer unique,” Etten said.
Mayor Tom Hartz said he, too, would like to preserve the historic building, but also for George to be able to move forward with his new business development.
“We are in a pickle,” the mayor said.
If George decides to move forward with his proposal for 832 Geneva St., the next step would be to present a general development plan to the plan commission, which could occur in November.
Commission member Michael Krajovic said he hopes someone is willing to relocate the property that George is offering to give away.
“It sounds like it could be a good deal for someone,” Krajovic said. “I don’t have a feel for how much it would cost to move it, but I’m sure it’s less than to acquire the property.”
Whether the owner of Brick & Mortar Home Store can demolish a store and replace it with a new commercial building remains up in the air, after the owner submitted revised plans to address critics.
Thomas George, co-owner of Brick & Mortar, wants to raze his store at 832 Geneva St. and build a new two-story commercial building to include a furniture store and a coffee shop.
Some residents and city officials have opposed the razing of the existing building because it is located in the Lake Geneva’s Historic Maple Park District.
The Lake Geneva Plan Commission was set to vote on the matter Nov. 19, but decided to hold off. At its Dec. 17, the commission will continue debating the proposal.
The matter ultimately will be decided by the Lake Geneva City Council.
George has presented revised plans in which the new commercial building would more closely resemble a Maple Park residential home. However, the business owner said he has not received clear direction from the city on what officials want him to do with his proposal.
“We don’t know where to go with it,” he said, “because we don’t have any feedback.”
Plan Commission member Ted Horne said he understands George’s frustration. Horne said even though the new building would be operated as a commercial business, he would prefer the development to include a certain amount of green space.
“I want the green space,” Horne said. “I don’t want the building going to the sidewalk.”
Alderman Doug Skates, who also serves on the Plan Commission, said he had not seen much change to the proposal from George. Skates said he would like the new building to more closely resemble a home in the Maple Park district.
“I think we would feel a lot better about moving forward with something,” Skates said, “if we had something different than what we had the first two months.”
Scott Lowell of Lowell Management Services Inc., who is representing George, said not many changes have been made to the original proposal, because the city has not provided direction. Lowell said he would like to develop a plan that would include green space.
“We’re not going to spend any more money at this point in time, until we find out if we’re going to the next step,” Lowell said. “We will certainly take your input and come back with a plan.”
Opponents have said they are not in favor of Brick & Mortar’s plan because the new retail building does not appear to be designed to be consistent with other buildings in the Maple Park district.
“They don’t want it to look like a commercial building,” Building and Zoning Administrator Fred Walling said. “They want it to resemble more like a neighborhood property.”
George wants to put green space and outdoor seating area on the property; however, most buildings in that area are constructed completely up to the property line with no green space.
“We wanted something that was a neighborhood place,” George said. “We wanted to draw in from the people of Lake Geneva. That was our intent.”
Also during the Dec. 17 plan commission meeting, commissioners are set to vote on a conditional use permit allowing George to demolish the existing store at the site.
George has offered the building at no cost to anyone who is willing to move it to a new location. Critics, however, have questioned whether Brick & Mortar officials are marketing the building.
“Nobody has been talking about it,” Skates said. “I don’t want to see that house get knocked down.”
Lowell said several people have approached him about obtaining the building. One group wanted to move the building to a location near Geneva Street, but met with opposition because it would have required cutting down some maple trees.
“We’ve heard people say, ‘You can’t move it there, because you’re going to cut down two trees,’” Lowell said.
The Brick & Mortar store in an historic Lake Geneva neighborhood could be saved from the wrecking ball.
Brothers Chris and Terence Pisano of Lake Geneva have stepped forward with an offer to move the Brick & Mortar Home Store from its current location at 832 Geneva St. to a spot at 333 Center St. for new commercial and residential use.
Lake Geneva Plan Commission members concerned that the building otherwise would be demolished are cheering the proposal from the Pisano brothers to move it across town.
“If it were appropriate, I would do a jig,” commissioner Sarah Hill said. “I’m so happy.”
Thomas George, co-owner of Brick & Mortar, has proposed razing the store and constructing a new two-story commercial building at 832 Geneva St. for a new furniture store and coffee shop. Several residents and city officials have expressed opposition to the demolition of a property in the historic Maple Park district.
Faced with opposition to his redevelopment plan, George has offered the building for free to anyone who is willing to relocate it.
Chris Pisano presented a concept plan during the Dec. 17 plan commission meeting, saying he and his brother would move the building to the Center Street location and renovate it. The first floor would include office space, and the second floor would include an apartment with a full kitchen and bathroom.
Besides constructing a new foundation for the home, Pisano said, not much work would have to be done at the Center Street site to prepare for the move. An electrical utility line would have to come down temporarily, and two trees would have to be removed, but would be replaced, he said.
“It’s a minimal footprint in terms of a structural move,” he said.
If city officials approve the plan, Pisano said it could take up to three weeks to prepare the site and the building for the move.
Mayor Tom Hartz said the old Brick & Mortar retail location would fit in well with the zoning and other buildings in that area on Center Street.
“I think this would be a nice transition,” Hartz said. “It has a residential feel. It also would be a business.”
Plan Commission member Ann Escaro said she, too, likes the Pisano brothers’ proposal, and she looks forward to the possibility of the Brick & Mortar property being salvaged.
“It’s exciting,” Escaro said. “I’m staying up whenever it’s moving, and I’m going to watch.”
The Plan Commission was scheduled to vote on George’s general development plan and demolition permit request regarding redevelopment of the Geneva Street site. But George requested that the commission hold off voting until January.
A public hearing also is scheduled for January.
City Planner Michael Slavney said the building, if relocated to Center Street, would need eight parking spaces, but the property only has room for four parking spaces.
Slavney said the city could be flexible with that requirement.
“That’s the kind of flexibility that’s being requested as part of the plan development,” he said.
Hill asked who would be liable if any damage occurred to any streets during the move. Pisano said the companies involved with moving the structure would be liable; however, he said the moving companies have experience moving large structures.
“The companies we’re dealing with move highway infrastructures, bridges and things like that,” Pisano said.
To the Editor:
I read with dismay the thought of moving or destroying the Brick & Mortar Building at Cook and Geneva streets.
This, for our city, would be a death by a thousand cuts rather than a blow to the gut, as, for instance, the multilevel parking garage, once proposed, would have been.
I recently stood on Cook Street and marveled at the beautiful sight; all the buildings were vintage! None were new and grotesque, like the new hotel being built on Edwards Boulevard.
People who visit Lake Geneva enjoy the old and vintage small town feel of our city. As we slowly destroy the old and bring in the new, we will wake up one day and lament the passing of our town. It will be too late to bring it back. That is why we have historic districts, and the like.
I wish the Plan Commission members would walk to that street corner, and take a look around, as they contemplate destroying what is in view. The job of the Plan Commission is not just to build; it is also to preserve and protect our beautiful city.
After a heated debate about historic preservation, Lake Geneva aldermen have approved plans to relocate the old Brick & Mortar store and save it from demolition.
The Lake Geneva City Council voted unanimously Jan. 28 to allow the store to be uprooted from its current location at 832 Geneva St. and moved across town to 333 Center St.
The owners of Brick & Mortar initially had proposed razing the building to make way for construction of a new two-story furniture store and coffee shop at the Geneva Street location.
But after neighbors and city officials objected to demolishing a property in the Maple Park Historic District, the Brick & Mortar owners agreed to donate the structure to anyone willing to take responsibility for moving it to a new location.
Developer Terence Pisano stepped forward with plans for moving the building to Center Street and won support for his proposal, first from the city plan commission and then the city council.
Aldermen voiced relief Jan. 28 that a compromise had been found in the historic preservation debate.
Alderman Doug Skates said said although some Maple Park neighbors remain disappointed to see the Brick & Mortar building leaving the neighborhood, they were satisfied that it would not facing a wrecking ball.
“They were happy to see it live another day,” Skates said.
Pisano was not present for the city council vote, although he told city officials that he would make room on Center Street by demolishing another structure and installing a new foundation. He plans to use the old Brick & Mortar building for a combination of residential and commercial uses.
“Our objective here is to present a viable solution with a structured process that everyone appreciates,” his brother, Chris Pisano, said on behalf of Terrence at the Jan. 21 plan commission meeting.
City Council members said the old retail store would fit well with the Center Street neighborhood.
Alderwoman Shari Straube said she was happy that someone had offered to save the building from demolition. Straube called it “a beautiful structure.”
“I’m sad to see it leave my district,” she said, “but I’m glad it’s still going to be around.”
Alderwoman Selena Proksa agreed, saying, “Everyone seems really relieved that the building is not going to be knocked down.”
Chris Pisano said the move could be completed in either June or July. He said the process would require obtaining the proper city permits, preparing the Center Street site, relocating the building and then re-connecting the building to city utilities after the move. Pisano said he is confident the project could be completed.
“We’re not building a home — we’re moving one,” he said.
Tricia Schaefer, a neighbor on Center Street, told members of the plan commission that she is ready to welcome the old Brick & Mortar building into the neighborhood.
“My response is, ‘Why wouldn’t I want this?’” Schaefer said. “I want this building to exist someplace.”
Terence Pisano is looking to move his business, while saving a building that is currently located in Lake Geneva's historic district.
Pisano plans to move the Brick & Mortar home store, 832 Geneva St., to 333 Center St. The Lake Geneva City Council unanimously approved a general development plan and a precise implementation plan for the move Jan. 28.
Pisano said he decided to take over the building after being approached by Brick & Mortar co-owner, Thomas George.
George had planned to raze the building to construct a new commercial building to include a furniture store and coffee shop. Several residents had expressed concern about the demolition because the building is located in the city's historic Maple Park District. George offered the building to anyone who was willing take it over and pay the cost to move it.
Ken Etten, chairman of the Lake Geneva Historic Preservation Commission, said he is pleased that the building will be saved but wishes it would remain in the Maple Park District.
"I'm glad to see that someone stepped forward and decided to move it," Etten said. "The historic preservation commission wanted to see it preserved, and I'm glad that Terence Pisano will do that. That building has a lot of history to it."
As part of the process, Pisano plans to demolish a current structure at the Center Street location, excavate the site and pour a new foundation for the Brick & Mortar home. Utilities would have to be disconnected from the Brick & Mortar building and a moving company would have to sure proper standards are met before it is relocated. City utility lines, along the route, would have to come down during the move.
Pisano also has to obtain proper city permits before the building is relocated.
"It shouldn't cause any damage to the streets or infrastructure in any way," Pisano said. "They drive homes and things like that over bridges, so they have to make sure the standard and distribution of the weight is approved for the type of environment that they are driving on."
Pisano hopes to start the project this spring. He had originally planned to have the move completed in either June or July; however, he does not have a set timeline for the project, because this is the first time he has been involved with moving a building and he wants to make sure it is done correctly.
"It's been my experience that when you rush through things-- especially when it's your first time doing something-- there's a tendency to make some mistakes," Pisano said. "So being in a rapid hurry isn't necessarily my concern. My concern is to make it cost effective and make it successful."
Pisano said, even through the Center Street site is only about three blocks away from the building's current location, the actual move could take three to five hours to complete.
"It's a long time to go a short distance, but when you think about what's happening I'm all right with that," Pisano said. "There's no reason to be going fast."
Once the building is situated in its new location, Pisano plans to renovate the lower level for his massage therapy business, Loosen Up! Ltd, and the upper level for residential space for him and his children. Pisano's business currently is located in the upper level of 201 Broad St.
Pisano said he feels the Center Street location will provide a more relaxing atmosphere for his clients.
"I like the space. That's why I got that lot," Pisano said. "It's a little bit quieter than the downtown section. For what I do, it creates a little bit more ambiance."
Pisano said he is pleased to have the opportunity to save the building and relocate it to a new site.
"I will be happy to have the building and be a part of a solution," Pisano said. "As opposed to there being a conflict or a problem, I like being a solution to things if I can be."
The old Brick & Mortar building is staying put in Lake Geneva’s Maple Park Historic District.
Store owner Thomas George said he has changed his mind about demolishing or moving the building located at 832 Geneva St.
Instead, the business owner plans to renovate the building and continue operating it as his furniture and home decor outlet.
“We came up with a plan that will keep the building where it’s at,” he said. “I think we came up with the best solution for the community.”
Ken Etten, chairman for the Historic Preservation Commission, said he and other members of the commission were happy to hear the store would remain a part of the Maple Park district.
“We’re glad that Tom has considered this option,” Etten said.
George last year upset some historic preservation advocates by moving to demolish the Geneva Street building so that he could replace it with a new two-story furniture store with a coffee shop.
After running into opposition, George struck a deal with an outside developer to move the building across town.
George said the deal with developer Terence Pisano “fell through,” although he did not elaborate.
“We felt this ended up being the best solution,” he said. “It’s evolving a commercial building, and that’s the way it should be.”
Pisano could not be reached for comment.
After George presented new plans for renovation of the storefront, members of the city plan commission June 17 unanimously approved the plans.
City Planner Michael Slavney said he was glad to see a strategy that would save the Brick & Mortar property.
“Thank you for coming back with the building intact,” Slavney told George.
The building was the original Brick & Mortar location and has stayed in business since George opened a larger, newer outlet on the other side of downtown.
Under the new renovation plan, George intends to extend exterior porches in the front and back of the building to put them at ground level to make the building more handicapped-accessible.
George said the front porch currently includes a ramp, but it does not provide enough access for electric wheelchairs or self-driven units.
A handicapped-accessible turn will be installed near the entrance of the building.
“That access will allow — for the first time in the building’s history — access to the entire first floor,” George said.
The back of the building will be renovated to include a new employee entrance, which will have access to the basement.
In the future, George said, he plans to request a permit to establish an outdoor seating area with landscaping where patrons can enjoy coffee and snacks.
“The idea for this space is to keep as much greenspace as we can with bushes and plantings,” he said.
City Administrator Dave Nord said since George is renovating the building and not moving or demolishing it, the project does not need city council approval.
Plan Commissioner Joe Gibbs said he was welcomes the decision to keep the Brick & Mortar property on Geneva Street.
“I think this looks nice,” Gibbs said of the plan. “I’m glad the building is staying.”
The coffee could be flowing soon at the old Brick & Mortar store that recently almost met the wrecking ball.
Thomas George, co-owner of Brick & Mortar, plans to establish an outdoor seating area at the business’s 832 Geneva St. location where patrons can enjoy coffee and snacks.
The Lake Geneva City Council unanimously approved a conditional use permit Aug. 26 to allow George to establish the outdoor seating area.
Building Inspector Fred Walling said the outdoor seating area is an excellent use of the property.
“It meets all of our downtown requirements,” Walling said. “I’m happy that it’s going in the direction that it’s going.”
George last year proposed to demolish the Geneva Street building and replace it with a new two-story business structure. Several residents opposed that plan, and George entered into a deal with a third party to move the building across town.
The relocation deal later fizzled out, and George decided to renovate the old place rather than bulldoze it.
The new permit allows the outdoor area to be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Mayor Tom Hartz said George plans to offer a relaxing atmosphere as part of the outdoor seating area.
“They’re not going to have music or anything like that,” Hartz told aldermen. “This is just for coffee and dessert.”
George said he is excited that he was able to develop a plan that will keep the building intact and make it more accessible for residents.
“The right thing happened,” he said. “I think if we presented this at first, I think this is what would have happened.”
Renovation work has been set in motion on the Brick & Mortar store in Lake Geneva’s Maple Park Historic District.
Demolition work began Oct. 30 on the interior walls of the store located at 832 Geneva St.
Owner Thomas George said all the interior walls will be removed, and a large fireplace will become the centerpiece of the retail home furnishings store.
“Basically when we’re done, there will be no interior walls,” George said. “It will flow all the way through.”
The building renovations are being planned by the construction and design firm Nikao Group of Hoffman Estates, Illinois.
“It’s going to be an open floor plan,” Nikao spokesman James Clendening said. “You will be able to see all the way up to the ceiling. It’s going to be beautiful.”
George said in the coming weeks he plans to have the exterior porches demolished. The porches on the Cook Street and Geneva Street side will be torn down for outdoor seating for coffee and snacks.
There also will be ground-level entrances to make the store more handicapped-accessible.
“We hope it draws in the local residents for their morning cup of coffee when they’re walking their dog,” George said.
The rear porch of the building will be renovated to include a display area for outdoor furniture, which also will include a ground-level entrance.
“It will be like living on your porch with whatever outdoor furniture there is,” George said.
George last year proposed to demolish the building and replace it with a new two-story structure. After encountering opposition to razing the building, George tried relocating the building, and then finally proposed to renovate.
The city council in August unanimously approved his plans for renovating the historic building.
Ken Etten, chairman of the Lake Geneva Historic Preservation Commission, said he was happy to see the retail store getting a makeover in its current location.
“We’re pleased that he came up with a plan to save the building,” Etten said.
Edward Holzman, another Nikao Group representative, said he was excited about working on a project that will help restore an older building.
“I hate when people tear down old buildings and put in new stuff,” Holzman said.
George and his wife, Kathy, purchased the Geneva Street building in 2005 and converted it into the Brick & Mortar home store. The couple eventually established a second Brick & Mortar store at 222 Center St.
Some of the interior work that is planned for the older building includes tearing down the current staircase and constructing a wider staircase that will make it easier for customers and employees to access the second floor.
“The staircase was absolutely not up to code, and we didn’t want one of our clients or guests to get hurt,” George said.
The lower floor will continue to operate as a furniture store, and the upper floor will serve as a showcase and display area.
The Brick & Mortar store was closed last month to prepare for the renovations and will remain closed throughout the entire course of the project.
George said officials conducted a special sale before the store’s closing and moved some of the items and holiday decorations into their other Lake Geneva stores.
George said he hopes to have the renovations completed and the store re-opened by next May.
“It really depends on what work can be done and the kind of weather we run into,” he said. “It is winter in Wisconsin already, so we already know that’s going to come into play. But we’ll see.”
What might be torn up ground and boarded-up windows now at the Brick & Mortar site soon will be a place where people can purchase furniture and enjoy a cup of coffee.
Progress is being made in eye-catching fashion on renovation work to the Brick & Mortar store, 832 Geneva St., Lake Geneva.
Crews in recent days have begun deep excavation work around the outside of the home furnishings retail outlet.
Store owner Thomas George said crews are in the process of laying the foundation for new outdoor porches, which should be installed within the next several weeks.
“Once we get the slabs in, it will be apparent what we’re doing,” George said.
The store owners are in the process of having the two-story building, which is located in Lake Geneva’s Maple Park Historic District, restored to include a furniture store on the lower floor and showcase and display area on the upper floor.
The project also includes installing ground-level entrances to make the building more handicapped-accessible, and outdoor seating areas where customers can enjoy coffee and snacks.
Demolition work began on the building last October.
The construction work is being completed by the Nikao Group of Lake Geneva.
Charles Manusos, president and CEO of Nikao Group, said once the project is completed, the building will feature new floors and walls.
Manusos said each floor will be one large room.
“Right now, each floor has individual rooms,” Manusos said. “The building will be remodeled to where it will be an open-floor concept.”
After the new outdoor porches are completed, crews will begin working on the roof of the building and installing a glass structure around the porch.
“That will help to keep all the work that is being done inside the structure projected,” he said.
Edward Holzman, another Nikao Group employee, said he looks forward to seeing what the finished Brick & Mortar outlet will look like.
“I’m excited for the building,” Holzman said. “I think it’s going to look neat.”
Brick & Mortar owners initially wanted to demolish the old store and rebuild.
Then they discussed selling the building to a buyer who would move it to a new site across town. When neither of those options proved feasible, the store owners moved ahead with a thorough restoration and expansion.
The project is unrelated to another Brick & Mortar store at 222 Center St. in Lake Geneva.
George said crews working on the Maple Park store also are in the process of installing new electrical and heating and air conditioning systems.
George had hoped to have the project completed in spring, but he said work probably will continue until early summer.
“When it’s done, we want it to be done right,” he said. “If it ends up being done a few weeks later, it’s going to be fine.”
Manusos said some of the work, such as pouring concrete, could not be completed during the winter, which caused some delays.
“Weather has slowed some work,” he said. “We had some cold and snow. We’re hoping Mother Nature will be our friend now.”
George said customers will enjoy the renovated site once the work is done.
“We’re hoping it turns out great,” he said. “We’re hoping residents and tourists will be happy when it’s done.”
Manusos said he is excited to be working on a building in a historic district.
“This type of project is right up our alley,” he said. “We want to preserve the building as much as possible.”
In the age of the coronavirus pandemic, some Lake Geneva businesses are requiring customers to wear face masks — and are paying a price as a result.
Customers who feel infringed upon by the public health safeguard are sometimes taken aback by being told to wear a face mask. And some take their business elsewhere.
Store owner Thomas George, who owns Brick & Mortar home furnishings and other downtown shops, said he has seen customers turn around and leave because of his face mask requirement.
“Some people don’t want to wear a mask — we respect that,” George said. “It’s their right.”
There are plenty of shops and tourist attractions in Lake Geneva where customers are asked, or gently encouraged, to wear a face mask. Not many are making it mandatory.
Those that do insist are incurring the wrath of shoppers who feel like going mask-less should not keep them out of certain businesses.
Visitors Melissa Borst and Michelle Thompson were not pleased to find a sign at the entrance to Twelfth & Brown boutique store directing them to wear face masks inside.
As it happened, both women already were wearing face masks. But they were not pleased to find Twelfth & Brown turning them away if they elected to ditch the masks.
“I probably would have bypassed the store,” Borst said. “That’s just my personal opinion.”
Thompson agreed: “We don’t like it. It takes away from the whole experience. It’s almost not worth it.”
Face masks have become one of the most recognizable symbols of the coronavirus pandemic, as public health officials urge people to wear face coverings as a way of avoiding spreading the contagious bug.
But as the public health outbreak has grown political and controversial, so, too, has the personal choice of wearing a mask — and the decision by some business owners to require it.
Cornerstone Shop & Gallery in Lake Geneva has a sign posted on its door telling customers to put on a face mask before entering.
Karin Bennett, co-owner of the store, said most shoppers have no objection. But some are not willing to wear a mask, and they usually turn around and walk away.
“I don’t think it was their intention to shop, anyway,” Bennett said. “I just think they wanted to come in and browse.”
Among those mandating face masks, some are not willing to enforce the requirement entirely.
Kevin Fleming, co-owner of Fleming’s Ltd., said he requires customers to wear face masks — although he will not tell them to leave the store if they decide to ignore him.
Fleming said most customers are happy to comply.
“It’s for the health of our customers,” he said. “It’s for the health of my employees, and it’s for the health of anyone who comes in the store.”
Lake Geneva has come under widespread scrutiny since businesses reopened in mid-May and large crowds of tourists have arrived, largely without abiding by public health cautions to wear masks and maintain safe distancing from one another.
A national group that grades communities on how well they are conforming to coronavirus safeguards gave Lake Geneva and the rest of Walworth County a failing grade of “F.”
One business in Lake Geneva is mandating face masks among customers even though the business is outdoors.
Lake Geneva Ziplines & Adventures requires patrons to wear face masks as they enjoy the ziplining thrill-ride experience.
Eric Howden, general manager of the business, said face masks are required because of the close proximity that tour guides share with customers during the zipline adventure.
“The nature of the activity requires participants and staff to be close to each other,” he said.
Although most people do not seem to mind, Howden said, he suspects that the face mask mandate could be a turnoff among some potential customers when they see it posted on the business’ website.
“Some people who see the mask requirement on our website, may decide not to come,” he said. “But for most people who do come, it’s worked out real well.”
Bennett said she decided to implement a face mask requirement at Cornerstone Shop after hearing from customers and employees that masks would make them feel safe inside the store.
Customers can even purchase a disposable mask for $1 or a brand-named mask for $8 to $10.
Bennett said the brand-named masks have become a popular item among customers.
“I think some women like to accessorize,” she said. “If they’re wearing a pink outfit, they want to wear a pink mask.”
George, whose other stores include ShoShoo Footwear and Bloomingbyrds, said all of his employees are required to wear face masks, too.
Customers can purchase masks at his stores for $1, with the proceeds donated to the Lakeland Animal Shelter in Delavan.
Customers mostly seem comfortable with the requirement, George said.
“Most of the people who come in think it’s a great thing,” he said. “A lot of the customers say ‘thank you,’ and that they appreciate it.”
Fleming said customers can purchase a mask at his store for $1, with the proceeds being donated to the Open Arms Free Clinic.
“Most people either have one, or they donate $1, or they leave,” Fleming said. “So, there’s been no problem.”
Photos from May 2020: Downtown Lake Geneva reopens during coronavirus pandemic
Shoppers return to Main Street during pandemic
Shoppers in Christine's Gift Shop in Lake Geneva
Cars line up heading into downtown Lake Geneva
Customers wait in line at Kilwins candy shop
Leather Accents owner Linda Longwell wears face mask
Oakfire restaurant crowd poses for a picture
Woman relaxes on bench with her bulldog on Broad Street
Overland Sheepskin employees prepare for returning shoppers
Visitors wear face masks in Library Park in Lake Geneva
Candle shop worker gets candles ready for shoppers
Shoppers seek return to normalcy in downtown Lake Geneva
Crowds back on Main Street in Lake Geneva
Bookstore employee wears face mask as stores reopen during pandemic
Popeye's outdoor patio fills up during first Saturday back
Business activity has returned to the original Brick & Mortar store in Lake Geneva, after a year-long renovation effort.
Now known simply at The House, the retail business at 832 Geneva St. has re-opened now that the majority of the planned renovation work has been completed.
The building’s lower-level store, The Marketplace, opened for business Sept. 5 and offers a selection of in-home items, including candles, coffee mugs, honey, crafted cocktail kits and children’s clothing.
“I’m trying to go for things that other people don’t have around here,” co-owner Katherine George said. “I’ve specifically been looking for items that are not being carried in other stores.”
George said The Marketplace received a lot of foot traffic during its opening weekend, which was Labor Day weekend.
“Saturday was great. Sunday was even better, and Monday was Monday,” George said. “It was a holiday, so people were deciding whether they wanted to stay or go.”
The building was closed last October for the renovation work, which included removing interior walls, installing ground-level entrances to make the building more handicap-accessible, and removing the exterior porches to establish an outdoor seating area.
George said the owners also had the ceiling on the second floor removed to allow customers to view some of the building’s original architecture.
“You can see up to the top of the building,” she said. “You get to see the original dormers and the original beams up there.”
Besides installing a driveway, most of the planned work has been completed.
“Other than that, it’s the finishing touches that have to be done,” she said. “We’re getting close. It’s kind of like that saying, ‘So close, but yet so far.’”
Charles Manusos, president and CEO of the Nikao Group contractors from Hoffman Estates, Illinois, said he is pleased with the work performed by his company.
“I think it turned out great,” Manusos said. “We were able to keep the building itself intact.”
Monika Stinebrink, an employee at the Marketplace, said customers seem to enjoy the building’s new look.
“Everybody has been happy with the renovations,” Stinebrink said.
George said the upper level of the building also is open for business with a familiar name — Brick & Mortar — which features furniture, kitchenware, clothing items, and bath and body products.
“The whole inside is open for business, which includes The Marketplace and Brick & Mortar,” George said.
The lower-level outdoor patio area will include a coffee shop or a cafe in the near future.
George said they are still looking for a tenant to occupy the space for the coffee shop.
“I don’t want to put just anybody in there,” George said. “I want somebody who understands what it really takes to do a business in this town, and I want someone who understands that it’s a community-based area.”
Additional outdoor seating is set to be available in the back of the building next summer, which can be used for business and family-related activities.
“If somebody wants to have an office meeting or a bridal shower or a ladies’ get-together, they would be able to rent that back porch for their event,” George said.
The renovation of the building has been a two-year process.
Co-owner Thomas George originally proposed to demolish the structure and replace it with a new two-story building. After opposition from the community, Thomas George then tried to relocate the building, but decided to have it renovated instead.
The city council unanimously approved renovation plans for the building in August 2019.
Katherine George said she is happy she and her husband were able to save the building and renovate it.
The Georges purchased the Geneva Street building in 2005 and converted it into the Brick & Mortar home store. The couple later opened a second Brick & Mortar store at 222 Center St.
“I think we were able to keep the eloquent nature of what the house was, but yet give it a whole new feel,” George said.
George said she and her husband decided to establish three separate businesses at The House to help attract more visitors.
“We wanted to give it a purpose for people to come,” she said. “I think by creating the space to be multiple entities, it gives people a reason to come.”