Together with her husband Jason, Amy Pawlowski is banking on the experience gained from a sweet previous business endeavor — she founded Candy Town USA in 2005 before selling it last year — to develop a combination country mercantile, antique booths, bakery/eatery and second-story apartments in a century-old warehouse at 2019 Montana Ave.
During a Saturday tour, the Pawlowksis said they hope to renovate and open the mercantile, which they’re calling Liberty & Vine, as well as a café and a 31-booth antique venue as soon as April or May. The five apartments — one of which they plan to occupy — will be ready at about the same time, or shortly after that.
To cap the deal, there’s a 32-space parking lot that people who are, say, on a pub crawl or seeking a bite to eat along Montana Avenue are welcome to use after hours.
Amy, who’s 46, said she briefly considered retirement after her time developing and operating Candy Town USA.
“After I sold it, I sat around for about three days and told Jason, ‘This isn’t for me,’” she said.
Their love of antiques took them to New England to look at examples of what they wanted for their Billings venture. They took in dozens of antique shops in states where history is measured in centuries — Vermont, Rhode Island and Maine.
The ma and pa approach they saw appealed to the Pawlowskis. “That’s America to me,” she said.
With financing help, in May the couple purchased the old warehouse, known variously as the Unisource Building and as the Peanut Packing Plant for the distinctive pink peanuts it once produced.
The building sits two blocks outside the downtown tax increment financing district, so the couple relied on financing and expertise from Yellowstone Bank and secondary financing by the Montana & Idaho Community Development Corporation. John Atkinson of AT Architecture designed the 37,000 square foot project; Hardy Construction Company will build it.
The Pawlowskis plan to operate the Liberty & Vine country store themselves. They've lined up 21 of the 31 antique dealers for whom there’s also space in the former warehouse.
They say they’re about 90 percent sure that a woman they’ve been working with will open an eatery and bakery on site, which she’ll lease from the owners.
Liberty & Vine, about 15,000 square feet of retail space, will offer a varied collection of items for sale — hardware; goods and food items made in Montana and the other 49 states; clothing for women, men and children; linens; and home décor among them.
“Made in Montana and made in America are important to us, especially from mom and pop vendors,” Jason said. “If you look, there are a lot of items from small businesses out there.”
Amy said she conceived the mercantile’s moniker by “writing down a lot of words that I like.”
Liberty is a value the couple said they cherish, and the “vine” concept reminds Amy of the tenacious creepers that grow in the couple’s yard. “They continue to stick around no matter what I do,” she said with a laugh. That’s the kind of longevity they seek out of their new business.
Amy described the antiques venture as “a business within a business,” located in the eastern portion of the main floor of the building. The basement — which is served by an elevator still in operation — is large enough so that every vendor will have a space to store the next items they plan to offer to the public.
“That was a vendor’s idea,” she said. “They told us their garages and their trailers are always packed.”
Already, the two have secured a number of antiques that’ll be used to display the antiques for sale. The building came equipped with a large antique Toledo scale that rather ungenerously displays one’s weight about 25 pounds heavier than the actual poundage.
“It used to be 10 pounds lighter” than the actual weight, Amy reported.
Four two-bedroom, two bathroom and one one-bedroom, one-bathroom apartments are planned for the second story. Each unit will have a rooftop deck.
While rents are still being developed, the two say they’re eager to move in to their new place.
“We love downtown,” Jason said.
“Every downtown has its own personality,” Amy said. “When you visit a place, you tend to remember that distinct shop or restaurant."
About 10 openings remain for antique dealers only. Interested parties can reach Amy at 406-698-5636.