3600 Walnut Street
Last winter I bought a church. Some of you already know this story but for those who don’t here it is:
Two winters ago I was browsing the internet for a new warehouse space for my business—my name is Sam by the way—and I am the owner of Unruh Furniture, a business I started in my garage in 2011. Disappointed in the real estate options I broadened the search to include Special Use Buildings and up popped an old stone church at the corner of 36th and Walnut. I immediately told my wife that I was going to “buy that church someday and build furniture in it”. She laughed, which was fair, because I couldn’t afford the building and it was way too big for my four-man company. So I bought another warehouse in Grandview. A year later, we had doubled in size and my now 8 man crew had outgrown our spot. So I returned to the web and you can probably guess where my mind went. I had to check if it was still available.
I called the City of Kansas City that day and asked if I could build furniture in a church that was on the National Historic Registry, zoned residential and located in the middle of a historic neighborhood.
I fully expected to hear anything from a small chuckle to roaring laughter.
City Planner Joe Rexwinkle answered the phone and to my surprise he said it would be almost impossible, but that if I petitioned the historic neighborhood as well as the City planning commission then I could be granted a hearing where they would entertain the idea of giving me a special use permit. All I heard was “yes.”
That was January of 2015 and for the next 3 months I played politician, casting my vision to everyone who would have a say in the matter. In April, I had my hearing. They voted me in.
I then worked tirelessly from April until October trying to convince a bank to loan me the money to buy and fix it up (did I mention that everything in the building was broken?). I started with Wells Fargo, then Bank of Kansas City, then three other smaller banks before Arvest finally said yes. In November of 2015, I closed on the building and immediately started in on the renovations.
I was convinced that after 10 months of at least 20 hours per week working towards purchasing the building that the renovations would be easier. I really thought the hardest part was over. It wasn’t.
These last 9 months of renovations have been the hardest of my life. I’ve cussed and cried. I have yelled at the air and yelled at people and at myself, but it is getting close. I couldn’t afford a general contractor and so I have been, for good and for bad, managing the project myself.
I have had countless people ask me in the last several months if I regret this venture and I always come back to this: The vision I have for this building, if I can accomplish it, will be worth the work.
The vision is this: That people would feel connected with what they buy. Not only because they can customize furniture to what they need and who they are, but because they can watch and meet the very people who will build it for them and that all this would happen under one magnificent roof.
Have a look at some of these progress photos and see if you can catch hold of that same vision.