Vacant downtown retail space devoted to the arts becomes reality in downtown

Vacant downtown retail space devoted to the arts becomes reality in downtown Rachel Sorensen and Aaron and Phyllis Packard are discovering unique returns on their investment in the former Maurice's building at 2 East Main Street. They transformed the structure into The Main Street Gallery. by David Lias The last time most Vermillion citizens viewed the interior of the building at 2 East Main Street, it housed Maurice's, a clothing store.

The store closed several years ago and for most of that time the building has remained vacant.

Today, however, the structure is adding a new zest to life in downtown Vermillion.

It's attracting some of the best bits of culture available in the region, and that, in turn, is attracting new visitors to Main Street.

The former Maurice's building is today known as The Main Street Gallery.

The building was purchased by Phyllis Packard, her son Aaron, a professional photographer who has located his studio in a portion of the structure, and her daughter Ahna Packard of Los Angeles, CA.

Another major investor in the building is Aaron's fiance, Rachel Sorensen, also of Vermillion, who is manager of the gallery.

The Packards took possession of the building in January.

From that time until it opened in April for its first show, the interior underwent a substantial makeover.

It was a process, Aaron admits, "that left us with sore backs, sore hands and sore elbows for awhile."

Nearly everything that once was inside the building when it housed Maurice's was removed.

The floor was especially challenging.

"We took out immense amounts of carpet and plywood subflooring and layers of glue and linoleum," Aaron said.

"It had to go," Rachel said.

The hard work exposed the building's wooden floor.

"Aaron spent about two straight months behind a sander, and then we had our hand-staining, with our wax-on, wax-off sessions," Phyllis said, laughing.

That once-tired old floor today is rich and warm and properly greets everyone who enters the building.

The gallery has hosted four shows since it opened April 2.

"The main objective for us acquiring the building was for me to put in a photo studio," Aaron said, "and with the amount of space we have, we decided to develop the gallery space for our own use and to bring in shows like this."

People mingled throughout the studio as Aaron spoke viewing the ceramic artwork of Sanket Patel (see story on page 3).

The gallery, Phyllis said, seems to be changing the character of downtown Vermillion.

"I don't know if we actually thought about it while we were planning this, but we are loving the fact that we find parents coming down in the evening with their children in strollers to see the art," she said. "It is becoming a place that people enjoy to check on and walk in."

Rachel's influence, Phyllis said, is one reason the gallery is enjoying success.

"There are other changes that are probably going to take place as this grows and we figure out what will work best for us," Aaron said.

Rachel, Aaron and Phyllis all share the role of keeping an eye out for high quality art.

"Sometimes the artists find us," Rachel said. "It's been a joint effort. We look for high quality, original art."

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