What Might Have Been

The day started like any other–a lazy weekend when my husband took the kids to visit his parents at their lake house. I stayed home to work on projects and get the laundry put away. But as soon as he walked through the door, I could tell something was different. Something had happened.

His eyes were shining with excitement as he pulled out his phone and said “I found a building today.”

Ok, let me back up a bit.

I had been toying with the idea of opening a brick and mortar store to sell… something. Antiques? Home decor? Interior Design Services? Photography classes and weekend blogging retreats? Jewelry boxes made out of seashells? Honestly, I had no idea what I wanted to sell but the idea of becoming a shop owner would not leave me.

I had looked at an old house that once was the local herb store but it had holes in the ceiling and a price tag that was way out of my budget. So when my husband said he had looked at a building, it was not an unexpected thing.

But this building that he looked at was something different. Something unique and special. It was a turn-of-the-century storefront building on Main Street in the small town where I had attended college. While I was in school there (and the twenty years prior) it had been a gift shop and bookstore. I had been inside a few times but I didn’t have any kind of lasting impression of the place.

Main Street Montevallo Alabama Storefront

But as soon as he pulled up the pictures on his phone, my jaw hit the floor.

Main Street Turn-of-the-Century Mercantile Store in need of renovation

It looked nothing like I remembered it.

Staring back at me in the photograph were original hardwood floors, exposed brick walls and a soaring pressed tin ceiling with a mezzanine balcony around the entire perimeter of the building.

Everything was covered in a century’s worth of dust, but still the space oozed with a vintage charm that could not be replicated by a newer building. These mouldings were to DIE for.

It was something very special.

It had been built around 1895 to serve as the Mercantile for the town and college. Throughout the years, ownership had changed hands a few times, but the current owner had been in the building since the 1970s or 80s.

Turn-of-the-Century Mercantile Store bookshelves

It had been totally gutted to bring it up to code requirements, so it was basically just a shell of a building. There was no plumbing, no heat or air conditioning, no working light fixtures and a whole lot of construction that needed to be done before it could open the doors to the public again.

Staircase in a Turn-of-the-Century Mercantile Store in need of renovation

The thought of bringing an old Mercantile back to life excited me. In this age of Pioneer Woman and Joanna Gaines buying old buildings and renovating them, it really made me want to follow in their footsteps.  Mandi at Vintage Revivals is currently in the process of transforming an old Mercantile into her home. It is the hottest trend of the moment.

Unfortunately, I don’t have access to the bank accounts that Ree and Joanna do.

Regardless of that whole bank account thing, I still decided to pursue the idea because my husband was ALL IN. As a lover of all things vintage, he fell harder for the building than I did, but he would not have been the one who was going to have to handle the construction and remodeling details. Because my husband fully intended to keep his day job, those responsibilities would fall on me.

Turn-of-the-Century Mercantile Store in need of renovation
I had a great vision of what the space could look like. I filled an entire Pinterest board full of nothing but storefront ideas and vintage commercial spaces. 

I pictured it as a multipurpose space- part wedding / music event venue, part coffee shop, part design studio where I could take amazing photographs of things or host classes and workshops for my blog readers. Maybe some vintage consignment booths to help pay the bills. I pictured everything from acoustic musicians playing in-the-round to a Makery with arts and crafts exploding all over the walls.

Couldn’t you just see a party setup like this in that amazing building?

Source: Kerry Bartlett Photography

Or maybe a coffee shop and retail boutique where I could sell really cool vintage wares?

And the window displays I could create inside these gorgeous old storefront windows?  I die just thinking about it.

My inner Anglo/Franco/Euro-phile was giddy at the thought of transforming this facade into something straight out of the streets of Paris or London.

sage green storefront Lie down I think I love you Storefront

Sources Unknown

In my mind, I was already planting flowers in windowboxes and planning what witty sayings I could write in chalk on the signage out front.

Source: the brown shed

This photo of copper cladding on stair risers alone made me want to buy the building immediately just so I could pull off this look on the staircase in the middle.

Source: Unknown (but if anyone does, please tell me so I can link it up and congratulate them on making me drool.)

I’m telling y’all, I was OBSESSED with this building for a full three months of my life. I drafted a proposal and went to a banker to take out a business loan so that I could begin my dream of owning a brick-and-mortar. And he said YES, y’all. He was really going to give me the loan and he even said my idea was a good one.

I called my Realtor and was prepared to make an offer.

But then…

Then, I had a two-hour long phone conversation with the local building inspector about what exactly was needed to bring the building up to code. He was a super nice guy and he was really on my side, willing to help me every step of the way. But the more he talked, the more I realized that I was about to drop some serious cash into this building. Everything he said added thousands more dollars to my proposed budget, and all I could hear was “CHA-CHING, CHA-CHING” with every new revelation.

It was a crushing blow, but I knew after that conversation that I was getting in way over my head. There was simply no way that I, as a middle-income mom of a two-year-old and a ten-year-old, could afford to take on a project this big. Maybe if my kids were older or if I was financially independent, then yes, I would have jumped on it in a heartbeat. But the reality is I am not equipped for something of that magnitude.

I had to walk away.

Perhaps if I had not been so ambivalent about the purpose of the building, I would have stayed the course. If I had a lifelong dream of opening a store that sold jewelry boxes made out of seashells, then maybe I would have fought harder to make it happen. But the truth is I still have no idea what I would have done with that big old space besides pour money into it and blog about the process.

I am a firm believer that things always work out for the best. When God shuts a door, He opens a window. I have first-hand experience with this little slogan, so I am trusting that my decision was a good one. In fact, just this week, some other Big Changes have happened in our lives that made us VERY thankful that we didn’t buy that building.

I have no regrets.

Have you ever been faced with a major decision like this and been forced to walk away? It is an incredibly hard thing to do, but I’m thankful for the opportunity and experiences it gave me. I never imagined myself sitting across the desk from a banker to ask for a large business loan and hearing him say “Yes”, but I totally did it. That alone gives me hope that one day another opportunity might come along when I am more prepared to take it. Maybe one day I will know without a doubt that something like this is the right choice for me and my family.

Unfortunately, that time is not now.

Maybe if I salvage some sheets of weathered copper cladding and DIYed that amazing staircase at my house I will feel better.  Whatcha think?

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Speak Your Mind



  1. Thanks for sharing, Beth. Hard decisions… in so many ways, especially when we are seeking the Lord’s will in an area of freedom. Looking forward to hearing about your new changes that recently came up!

  2. I know it was hard to walk away from that beauty! But God has a plan, I am sure of it!

    We’re at a weird and uncomfortable/transition time now and it’s driving me crazy. I like everything planned out and organized and our future is totally up in the air right now. I know I just need to keep my faith that He will show us the way!

    Also, you’ve piqued my interest about the new changes… is there another little one coming to the Bryan family?? Why is that always my first guess?!

    • That’s always my first thought too!! 😆

    • Ahhh, Leen, I feel you, my friend! It’s so hard to not know which direction to take. I am a planner, too, so I really hate that feeling of uncertainty.

      As for the changes, NO, that ship has sailed! LOL Definitely not pregnant, although I appreciate that you think I’m sane enough to handle another child at this age! HA!

  3. You could always open a consignment center so others could share their talents and their commissions would help pay your expenses. Rent out some space in the back to a tea room or cafe during the day and use space for events in the evenings. Getting people to know you’re there will be the hardest part so plan carefully and have a “gala grand opening” with a percentage going to the local homeless shelter, spca, high school, etc.

    The place looks wonderful!!! Good luck!

    • It’s like you read my mind, Janet! Consignment booths were definitely something I considered for the space, as well as events and a coffee house. Unfortunately I had to put that dream on the backburner for a while but maybe eventually that will happen. <3

  4. That staircase is enough to make me want to buy it! Gorgeous building, and I’m semi-bummed for you, but things work out as they should… right?

    • I know, right?? That staircase was one of the major selling points for me! But yes, things work out for the best so I have to give up my dreams of copper cladding the stairs and move on to other projects that will go viral on Pinterest. 😉

  5. Well on to the next big thing, so I am waiting to hear about the other big changes!

  6. Nancy Stroble says:

    What an interesting story!!! That is a beautiful building. Having come from a small Southern town with similar buildings, I could feel your connection to this one. The tin ceiling and mezzanine balcony are gorgeous, but no plumbing, heat or air, or working light fixtures is very scary “boys and girls.” The owner needs to take care of these issues. You’ll find that retail space some day and your little one will be old enough to help with it by then. Love you Beth. Your friend Kent’s mom, Nancy Stroble

    • Thanks Nancy! Yes, the small town Main Street renovation is what really made me want to buy the property! I love that town so much and I would love to be a part of it’s rejuvenation, but unfortunately it’s just not in the cards right now. Maybe when the kids are older. You’ve got a Caroline grandbaby of your own who is VERY similar to my Caroline so you totally understand why it’s not possible to renovate a building with a 2 year old!

  7. Kelly W. says:

    I had so much fun with our Coffee Brainstorming session about that place but we can always scheme and dream about a different spot! 🙂

  8. Wow! Being in retail takes so much time. I could not imagine all the work that this building required and then to be there every day. Bleh. Maybe someday but kiddos need a mommy.

    • Thanks, Linda. I totally agree. I had put out a question on facebook to all my retail shop owning friends to give me the truth of the matter, and they didn’t disappoint. Nearly everyone of them told me how hard and time-consuming it was. That was another factor in my decision. I should write a follow up blog post with all of their advice! It was good to hear the reality of it and not the sugar-coated version.

  9. I can see why you fell hard for that place. It’s dreamy, but definitely a ton of expensive work. Can’t wait to see what direction you end up going and hear what your big changes are.

  10. Yes, i’ve faced a “no” to a ambiguous dream which then morphed into a real dream. Thank God, I didn’t poured my life savings into assets right before the 2007-9 economic turn down Since I was not chained to the finances of the first, I was able to jump into my real dream. Best wishes. Look for the paths that God is revealing to you

    • This is encouraging to hear! You just never know what is up the road ahead, and I have no regrets about this decision. My gut tells me it was the right one, even though it is not fun to have to say no to a fun dream. 🙂

  11. Marci King says:

    Absolutely beautiful
    I opened an antique store in a cute old building about 6 years ago.
    It was exhausting. I lasted 2 years.
    Owning a business took way too much time away from my husband and 3 children. I think you made the right decision even if it was painful.
    Something more manageable will come along.

    • Thanks Marci! You are definitely not alone. I talked to MANY friends who own retail stores and they gave me good insight into what kind of realities they face. Thanks for sharing your experience with me. I feel good about my decision, even though it sure was fun to think about what all I could do in that beautiful space!

  12. Oh my GOODNESS! How about I open a second Urban Farmgirl in that gorgeous space?? Will you be my general manager? Seriously though – my mind’ has been all the same places. It is such a huge leap, and I am shocked how many people jump right in. Owning a brick & mortar is no joke! When the fit is right you will come to you! What is meant to be always finds a way! Now all THAT being said – I am DYING over that building!!!

    • Woman! Don’t tease me like that! 🙂 I would LOVE to be your general manager just so I could play with all the merchandise and set up a new display every week. HAAA!

      Yes, it is a massive undertaking to own a retail space. I can see that from all the hard work that you and my other shop-owning friends put into their stores. I admire all of you so much for tackling those dreams and being super successful at it!

      Seriously, though, let me know if you want me to put you in touch with the Realtor! 😉

  13. Vritika| Villas in OMR says:

    The place is wonderful! Looking forward to seeing the big change from you 🙂

  14. This space reminds me so much of a small town (6500 city, 35000 in the whole county) in North Carolina. The downtown area had lots of empty buildings. A friend of mine bought one that looks so much like your space and turned it into a dance studio. Wooden floors- great for the feet and legs, wide expanses and walls for mirrors. Upstairs for office space and places for parents to sit and watch/wait for their children in classes. She did not expand use of the space for carrying dance merchandise, but that was a possibility. This was back in the 80’s and it is still thriving today. As a matter of fact, two other dance teachers wound up buying two other vacant stores and are still doing well today. I don’t know what it is about starting dance classes (creative movement) in this county, but it is alive and well. Pilates classes, yoga, Zumba for adults…… Just sayin’……..

    • I’m so glad to hear your friend has made a successful business out of it. I love the thought of bringing back Main Street to these small towns. People thought Walmart was bad but Amazon is gonna be the real killer unless we all make an effort to preserve the past.

  15. My jaw is on the floor, that building is stunning! But I can’t imagine the time and energy it would take to not only renovate it but run a retail store, too. Maybe HGTV can step in and work some magic for you! In the end, if the decision to say ‘no’ feels right, then it’s right. In the meantime, you can dream up that big business idea and maybe when the time is right you’ll be ready to take that leap. <3

  16. Beth, that building is gorgeous and your dream is valid and important. But, as you realized going into huge debt, not to mention the time that you would have to dedicate to the project and then open, buy inventory, hire help, etc., etc. Oh my gosh. Sounds wonderful, BUT. The time will come, the place will come. Maybe not today or next week or next year, but when it is right, it will come. If that is the plan for you. In the meantime, you made all our hearts beat faster.

  17. That is amazing! I too have dreams like that! There was an old stone building for sale in our area that I envisioned having an eatery or coffee shop with general store feel and it was convenient to the train station. My husband could have renovated it with his cousin who does construction and in the spring and summer I would open the big doors and have it ‘open air’ atmosphere. Loved reading your post! I think I remember you from my days on the Nest?


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