Thursday Doors – 27 Quality Avenue

27 Quality Ave
Toward the end of our shop’s operation, we were renting these two bays. That little white square on the right is an exhaust fan I installed in 1986.

If you were opening a custom furniture shop, you might think “27 Quality Avenue” would be a pretty perfect address. That’s what I thought. I remember that thought lasting just long enough to apply for a commercial loan. When I told the loan officer the address, the excitement disappeared from my voice with his reply: “I guess it’s better than 27 Shoemaker Lane (1).”

The attitude of the banker wasn’t the only challenge with the 1,500 square feet (139.35 sq. meter) that was to become Wood Designs. One of the biggest challenges was the entrance.

Make no mistake, in 1985, the space I was moving into was low quality warehouse space. The doors to my shop were latched with a padlock and hasp. That meant that there was no easy way to lock the doors from the inside, or even keep them closed. It also meant that the doors had a little wiggle room when locked. Wiggle room is fine, except when you’re paying to heat the space and when you’re trying to install an alarm system. The doors were about 3” (7.6 cm) thick. i.e. much thicker than most locksets. So, my first task at my brand new wood shop was to fabricate a few metal pieces to allow me to adapt a standard commercial entrance set and deadbolt to fit such a massive door.

Once inside those doors, I was surrounded by wood. 10” square Chestnut posts that were carrying 10” x 14” Chestnut beams in a grid pattern. Thick oil-stained wood planks made for a comfortable floor on which to work all day, as well as a fire hazard, a thought that was never far from my mind.

Shop Layout

The grid wasn’t an ideal layout for the machinery used in woodworking. The most difficult machine to locate was my table saw. I needed to be able to run 4×8 foot sheets of plywood across that, in every direction. Everything else was configured to support the way the stock flowed over the machine. I don’t have photos, but I remember the layout pretty well.

One disconcerting thing about the layout of the shop was the fact that those doors were the only way in or out. 10 feet away from the doors was the oil-fired furnace, which drew oil from a tank under the loading dock.

One winter night, the furnace developed a problem. The burner stopped its precise atomization of fuel and the controlled flame became a burning puddle of oil, much like the scenes in the movie “PT 109” with the oil slicks burning on the ocean surface. The fire was being fed by a pump that had to bring oil from that outside tank. By the time I was able to get to the tank and shut off the oil supply, my shop was filled with heavy black smoke.

I tell that story because, like the Picking House, the building my shop was in had been built a “safe” distance away from the main mill building, due to a risk of fire. It’s ironic, that the two buildings that were separated so a fire in them wouldn’t spread to the mill complex, are the only bits to survive, after the mill burned to the ground.

After I closed my shop, 27 Quality Avenue deteriorated for a while. Eventually, the owner found enough money to renovate the building. He dropped the lower level floors (removing the oil soaked planks) to grade level, creating 12’ high spaces. He replaced the windows and added windows in the walls of the upper level to better match the design of the main mill building.

The building has had several tenants in the nearly 30 years since Wood Designs closed, but it still appears to be a viable mixed-use space. Today, it is home to an engineering firm and a daycare center, among other things.

Scantic River runs behind the parking lot at 27 Quality Ave. One of the best things to come out of the shop experience, was Oreo – our first Tuxedo cat. Unlike the river cats who never got close to people, this little guy wandered up to me during one of my last days in business. He followed me so close that my heel was kicking him as I walked. I remember picking him up and saying: “just what I need, another mouth to feed.”

I couldn’t leave him behind. Despite my wife’s objection (she was allergic), I took him home. When I opened our side door, he jumped into my wife’s arms. As I reached to pet him, he slashed at me as if to say: “you brought me to my mother, you can go now.” My wife didn’t protest her new role as mom cat.

This post is part of an enjoyable ongoing series, Thursday Doors, by Norm Frampton. Scoot on over to Norm’s place. Check out his doors and click the blue button to check out the others or add your own.

(1) I’ve never understood why “shoemaker” has a bad connotation with respect to workmanship. It seems it should be the other way ‘round.

If you want to see that oil fire:

81 thoughts on “Thursday Doors – 27 Quality Avenue

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  1. I love hearing about your period in time when you worked in this unique but appropriate setting for your Wood Designs shop. My brother, Randy, has had his art made and displayed in a warehouse before! It was a great experience but too far off the beaten path to draw people in when he did this.
    He almost settled into an area about six months ago, called Franklinton in Columbus! I was so psyched!
    His economic choice was to head into Lorain in Cleveland, found a house with a basement workshop and garage below and the other two floors he has his artwork displayed.
    Randy loves working with wood, too. :) In the younger days after he graduated from OSU with his fine arts degree, he had the Franklin County clean up crew (City Dept) put his home phone on “speed dial.” They would call him when they had to chop a cheery wood or nicely grained tree, they would IMO it in his fenced in back yard. Someday, you will see, “Ah, Wind.” His most beautiful sculpture ever, Dan. Now, if you two get together, he would love to hear your stories and adventures! :)
    My oldest daughter Carrie had a cat she named simply Tux. He looked like your wood shop “find” and your wife is a “keeper” to be the cat’s mom!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Robin. It’s so hard to find a place to actually build furniture and hope that anyone will ever see it. For the most part, in CT, those would have to be separate buildings. I chose a cheap rent and a landlord who didn’t care that much about what I did to the place. Oreo acted more like a son than a pet with my wife. He was truly special and we (both) miss him. We still have tuxedo cats, we probably always will.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. In talking to woodworkers and cabinet shop owners over the past 20 years, I’d say that finding the ideal shop space is one of the biggest challenges. This was certainly a good deal for the cat wasn’t it?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It turned into a great opportunity for Oreo, Norm. It would have been a good place for me, but I can see that I would have had to eventually move, as the industrial businesses were all moved out of the building. I’m not sure an engineering firm would want a cabinet shop running underneath. The upper floor had high ceilings and, once they added those windows, a lot of natural light. If I had stayed longer, the landlord was going to reinstall more of the windows in my space.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Ha! Oreo knew who’s hand was going to take him home and which had was going to feed him. You were the middle man at best, Dan.

    Thanks for sharing photos of your custom furniture shop’s doors. Very interesting building, to say the least. I’m glad the owner remodeled and made it into a safer structure. Love the windows, but that sculpture was a cool idea.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mary. I know exactly where I am in the pecking order Wife-cats-dog-(bunny,chipmunks & squirrels)-Dan. It’s a good thing we don’t have chickens. The landlord told me that the building had served as the woodshop/workshop for the mill. He also told me that it was in a separate building due to the risk of fire. I’m guessing that the old tools were found in the crawlspace, when they lowered to floors. I really enjoyed seeing them on display.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Judy. Our little “river cat” was certainly the best thing to come out of that experience. Operating the shop was fun, and frustrating, but I learned a lot about woodworking, business and people. I’m very happy to see this building turning the corner and maybe getting set up to stick around for a long time.

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  4. A very interesting history, Dan – although I’m pretty sure “interesting” isn’t what you were thinking as your shop filled with black smoke. I imagine those were several very tense minutes until that fire was wrestled under control!

    I love Oreo’s name and the photo of his face buried in his paws. It’s interesting how animals – both cats and dogs – choose who *belongs* to them. You were chosen … then unceremoniously dumped in favour of your better half ;)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Joanne. It was scary. I was working late at night, and I was in the back of the shop. I didn’t know the thing was on fire until I saw the smoke, and then I had to figure out how to get out. We take having a phone with us for granted today, but I would have had to stay inside longer to call 911. If the fire had spread, it would have been 10 minutes until I could have gotten to a phone. Fortunately, I knew that there was a shut-off outside.

      We checked the papers to see if Oreo had been lost. We saw an ad for people giving away Tuxedo cats and it said “Oreo cats are special treats” so we went with that. Then, the second one had to be “Cookie” :)

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Glad the fire didn’t have worse results, Dan! Even though it makes me shudder to think of all that escaping heat and the doors may not be anything special, I love the brick building and am glad it’s still being used. Sound as though you’re well out of it, though, and with cookies, too. :-)

    janet

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Typical of a cat to choose it’s “human”. I have a cat by the name of Cookie and of course I thought of her the moment I saw Oreo. And quite the story about your wood shop. Thank goodness the fire did not have irreversible results! I would have loved a building like that…. all that wood and brick. Good to know it is being put to good use today and not torn down. Thank you for another great post!!! <3

    Liked by 1 person

  7. PT 109 is one of those movies that I used to watch with my grandfather annually. You know, in the days before cable, on Sunday afternoon. I really enjoyed that reference.
    Oreo is adorable. I’m glad you took him home to his mother. We’re all allergic to our cats and still we have cats. Sassy’s friend Zoe is dreadful allergic, every time she comes here her eyes water and she sneezes, but she’s maintaining denial because cats are so cute. lol
    That is some serious irony about the fires. I noticed that on the post about the other mill, now I’m wondering how often that happens?!? That must have been a scary time, your shop filling with black smoke.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Joey, I’m glad you liked that reference. I was trying to figure out something to help explain the pool of flaming oil and that was the first image that came to mind. I’ve seen that movie umpteen times. Eventually, my wife got over the allergy. She had always liked cats, but didn’t think we could have one. When I brought him home, he fit in the palm of my hand. He wouldn’t have survived long in the river-cat world. He was too cute to ignore :)

      The shop filling with smoke was scary. Among other things, it caused me to add a phone extension and to identify an alternate way out of my shop (through an adjacent space). Fortunately, I had a large exhaust fan. Once the fire was out, I was able to get rid of the smoke. Fire is the biggest risk for these buildings, especially after they fall victim to vandalism.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for the kitty pictures! Tuxies have never appealed to me, but now they do! I’m so happy a building with so many memories for you has been renovated and is doing well. I love it when somebody “gets” a space, and makes it better than it was without losing the flavor.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was sad John, mainly because we hit our sales goals and almost every customer came back for more. But an insurance increase made it impossible to make money. In the end, it might have been for the best. Competition in the custom cabinet industry is fierce, and despite high prices, they are artificially low. We saw that toward the end, for custom furniture. Regardless of what you can make, you’re up against imports that would have you working for minimum wage to compete. I am better off with career in IT and having woodworking as a hobby.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I loved this post, Dan. WIndows, doors, woodworking…..cats! What a stroke of luck for little Oreo. They have really updated this building very nicely. We have, I think, two woodworking businesses in town. Lots of cabinet makers, though. Why is that? I would love new kitchen cabinets but the cost is huge!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Lois. I was pretty sure I’d get your attention with this post. Oreo was the bright spot for sure, but I’m glad to see this building get a new lease on life. Oreo had a good long life of being pampered and loved. Custom cabinets can be pricey but there’s a lot of costs behind the scenes.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Thanks for sharing this interesting part of you life, and the building you had your business in. The fire/ smoked filled space sounded scary! I’m glad it didn’t take a worse turn. Oreo was pretty smart even as kitten. He sure was a handsome cat.

    Baby Girl has been asthmatic since she was 4yrs old so after our last cat Riley died we haven’t had another one. Big Baby Boy always the cat lover wasn’t happy about that, but it’s okay he has a cat now; a ginger one he and his fiancé call Battle Cat, and I have Diva Dog.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Battle Cat and Diva Dog – I love ’em. The night the furnace caught on fire was very scary. One of the very expensive insurance policies we had was tenant liability. If we set the building on fire, we were responsible for damages to other businesses. If that building caught on fire back then, nothing would have remained. Oreo was smart. He had a good deal with me, but a way better deal with the Mrs.

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  11. What a shame your custom woodworking was pushed out by high costs. Quality workmanship is a dying commodity nowadays. An interesting location for your business, made for a good read and it looks like the lovely Oreo got lucky!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. That looked like a super building to have as a workshop, Dan. My dad was a coachbuilder before he retired and it took him a long time to find an indoor space big enough to build caravans, when he started up his own business. Oreo looks adorable, I can see why you would miss him.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. yes / u would think shoemaker would be good – hmm but “quality” is cool!
    I like the tuxedo cat and wonder how the allergies went – my hubs and son have cat allergies or we would have had a couple of cats!
    anyhow – excellent doors post – and extra enjoyed the opening details about the thick door – the gap – the oil stained planks – all such good descriptive wiring!!
    😌

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. The allergy seems to have passed with cat hair, cat scratches and all the other stuff that comes with 30 years of cats. I’ve tried looking up the ‘shoemaker’ thing, but nothing definite has emerged.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. well 30 years says sooooo much – guess her body adjusted just fine….
        and nothing on the shoemaker thing here either – but maybe some stuff on ubiquitous “main street” or “broad”

        Liked by 1 person

    1. It was fun. I tell people that I had my mid-life crisis early. I learned so much, I made some nice pieces and had some happy customers. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford the insurance necessary to stay in business. Being selected by Oreo as transport to his “mom” was the last bright side of the experience.

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  14. Although late to comment, but thank you for sharing an experience of your life. In India, when we walk in to a furniture store it is usually decorated with finished furniture, so customers can walk in, look at the furniture, try and buy it. I see that your shop was more of a custom design kinda shop. Was there readymade furniture exhibited?

    Liked by 1 person

        1. I would visit the customer’s house and we would design it together. They usually knew what they wanted but couldn’t express or visualize. I could do that quickly. I would sketch a few ideas and before long, we would agree.

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