Within Billings’ aging north side industrial corridor, White Heating and Air Conditioning has added a modern new look and fresh interior to boost business.
The store at 1125 Fourth Ave. N. has undergone a $300,000 face lift, which includes a new facade, exterior color, and landscaping on the outside. Work was completed Aug. 15.
It’s the new showroom inside that makes owner Curt White the most proud. Workers increased the size about 23 percent to 8,000 square feet and installed a showroom to feature fireplaces. The room has 42 working fireplaces on display against different backgrounds — stone, tile, textured walls and others — to create a warm, inviting environment.
“This has been a really fun venture,” White, 44, said last week.
It was also a big project for White, who bought the building in 2001 for $150,000, half the amount of the most recent renovations. Work started last November in stages, and White said he used several sub-contractors to complete the job on the 64-year-old building.
White’s Heating and Air Conditioning is in the East Billings Urban Renewal District, a blighted northern industrial area eligible for tax-increment financing (TIF) for infrastructure improvement.
In July, workers paved North 12th Street between Third Avenue North and Fourth Avenue North, completing a $20,000 paving project around the block across from White.
The East Billings Urban Renewal District, which is funded by property taxes, did additional paving work, water and sewer improvements and other infrastructure work on 10 blocks in eastern Billings, said coordinator Tim Goodridge.
Goodridge said White could be eligible for reimbursement for part of the renovation. Eligible expenses include curb and gutter work, new sidewalks, ramps and rails to increase accessibility for people with disabilities and some engineering and design fees, he said.
Projects like the White renovations help improve the entire area, Goodridge added.
“The things that attract people’s attention the most are new building, upgrades to buildings, and landscaping…. All the things that happen down there are done on the initiative of private enterprise…. We give them enough to push them over the hill,” Goodridge said.
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The new showroom at White's has made manager Alex Villarreal’s jobs much easier. With the fireplaces operating onsite, customers can see how they work and where they might fit in their living rooms, Villareal said.
No more describing them, showing pictures, or pulling them up on the Internet, he said.
“It’s pretty phenomenal,” Villarreal said.
Fireplace sales represent about a quarter of White’s business, which includes service and installation.
“It’s a big part of our business. It’s hard to sell a fireplace to someone if they can’t see it,” White said.
White’s sells Mendota fireplaces, which cost $6,000 to $8,000 on the high end. Other brands include Napoleon and Heat & Glo. The store also sells Pacific Energy wood stoves.
All fireplaces have a mesh covering, a new industry safety standard, Villarreal said.
White’s has 26 employees. Customers come from Northern Wyoming, Eastern Montana and the Hi-Line, White said.
White, a Billings resident, launched the business out of his garage in 1999. He also operated Grand Fireplace Co. on Grand Avenue earlier this decade before consolidating the business into his current spot.
The Billings Skyview High School graduate said his is a destination store, but he’d still like passing motorists to notice him on their way to MetraPark. He added that his aim was to make people think a building that went up in 1952 was a new addition to the neighborhood.
“We took what we had, and made it the best we could,” White said.