SIDNEY — The Piper Building in downtown Sidney is slowly coming back to life.
Built in 1886, the storefront structure at 124 S. Main Ave. has been empty since 2007.
“I watched them tear down the Sam Piper Building. I remember when they tore down the Taylor Building and the Children’s Home. I thought, ‘They’ve got to quit doing that,’” said Cindy Helman, of Sidney.
She went home and told her husband, Jeff, that there was a building he had to see. She wanted to buy it.
“He thought I was crazy,” she said.
The couple closed on it in August 2012 and immediately started to clean it up and out.
“There was so much junk in here,” Cindy said. They found receipts from the 1970s, a linoleum sample book from the 1940s, advertisements much older than that, glass shelving, a 22-foot-long awning, to say nothing of dirt, dust, trash and a very leaky roof.
“I bought 20 pickle buckets from Mike (Jannides) at the Spot to catch water,” Helman said. “We got this building really cheap, but renovations are costly.”
They got the roof patched and then began to literally tear the place apart. They stripped three or four layers of pegboard from the walls, repaired the plumbing, replaced the ceiling and uncovered a carved staircase bannister that had been hidden for decades.
The structure boasts original hardwood floors that offer 5,500 square feet of space on each of two levels. There is also a basement, out of which William Piper once sold pork products, and that’s where the most interesting remaining historical feature resides. It’s the huge mechanism that operated an hydraulic elevator. The city water system supplied the water into the late 1990s. It was water that would drive the pistons that lifted and lowered the car.
When the weather was nice enough, Cindy and Jeff would spend evenings and weekends working in the Piper Building.
“Comes 2014, Nita (McCrum, owner of Ron & Nita’s) called and said the Burkhardt Building (which houses Ron & Nita’s) was for sale. We ended up buying that. We closed on it in 2015. Then we had to fix that building. We secured the roof, tuckpointed the wall. We used funds that would have gone into the Piper Building,” Cindy said.
Not long after, Mardie and Tom Milligan, of Sidney, approached the Helmans and asked if they could partner in the Piper Building renovations. The Milligans already owned one downtown building.
“I guess from our experience with our own building in downtown, it’s more fun to do thing together. We are friends with the Helmans. We thought if we partnered, there could be more effort in the effort. We believed in what they were doing. We thought it would be fun to do it together,” Mardie said.
They formed a partnership, CMJT LLC. The interest by the Milligans has been the biggest surprise in the project for Cindy.
“We found business partners that had the same passion for downtown and for saving the history that’s here,” she said. “We’ve put substantial money into it.” To date, the roof has been completely replaced; the electric service has been upgraded; the foundation is secured; the back entrance has been reconstructed and is up to security code; the drywall is up to code; the front windows and doors have been replaced; masonry has been repaired and replaced and the facade trim has been painted.
“With old buildings, you start digging into something, and it’s not what you thought. Every time we get into anything, it’s more than what you thought,” Cindy said.
They hope that within a month the clean-up of the interior will be complete.
“If someone came in with the wherewithal to put in a restaurant, the upstairs would make a great event space,” Cindy said.
The partners now would like to find a lessee or a buyer. Serious inquiries only will be accepted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The writer recently retired from the Sidney Daily News.