Do you have what it takes to revive an old building and give birth to a new business there?

The Loveland Art Studios on Main is the brainchild of Shawn and Chandra Custis. Their journey has been frought with difficulty but personally rewarding, as they transformed dead space into a lively artists colony in the northeast Cincy suburb.

The Custises were the butt of jokes when they chose to renovate what originally had been Loveland West Rural No. 7 School, built in the 1860s. “We had lots of good friends that we tried to convince to invest with us, but they all laughed,” recalls Shawn, chuckling.

The friends had reason to be skeptical. The structure at 529 Main St. was an eyesore, a huge blemish that had been abandoned for years. The whole surrounding area was also “sketchy,” as Shawn puts it.

The school closed in 1942, and in 1948 the Clifton shirt factory moved in. A string of unfortunate events forced the owner of the factory to shutter the operation in 2001. When the Custises took possession in 2004, the place was still filled with remnants of the failed business.
“There was a huge conveyer belt that took shirts from the main floor to the upstairs where they were shelved," Shawn explains. "Below the conveyer belt was a large hole that they would drop shirts that didn’t pass inspection through.”

The Custises spent hours pulling out old shirts, shelves and other abandoned equipment from the building. Three years later, their cleanup work continues.

Because they both have full-time jobs, the couple has to pace themselves on the renovations. Chandra is a real estate agent for Sibcy Cline’s Montgomery office. Shawn is the owner of Columbia Financial Services, which relocated to a space in the studios.

“I’ve been self-employed since I graduated from college. If you’re going to do it, do it,” Shawn advises other would-be entrepreneurs.
Even though his other office is in the building, he still pays rent for is financial services office. “I also rent out a space to keep his tools,” Chandra adds.

An art studio wasn't in their original plan for the place. Shawn and Chandra both love to collect antiques, which they would sell in booths at antique malls. They found a vintage bed they wanted to put on the market, but furniture can take a long time to sell in traditional antique outlets. That's when they decided to attempt to open up their own retail venue for antiques.

Chandra was out exploring Loveland when she spotted the school building and saw its potential. When she and Shawn went back to check it out, the “For Sale” sign was blown over in the parking lot. As they walked closer, the sign scooted and landed on Shawn’s feet.

An omen? Soon after, the Custises met the owner, Ed Levy, who ended up accepting their offer — 75 percent of the asking price.

Although Levy even helped them with financing, what motivated the Custises to make this risky investment? They had experience rehabbing other buildings around town, and they could envision what this one could become.

They ran into numerous obstacles before their plans with architects were completed. Then the clouded future of the project began to clear when they received a phone call from artist Mary Karg. As she tells it, she was on her way to the post office when she spotted the same "For Sale" sign that had intrigued the Custises. She called the number and was put in touch with the new owners.

Karg asked if they would be willing to rent her a space for an art studio. The Custises agreed, and they rushed to clean up the space. After Karg had been there for a month, she asked if she could hold a party.

The event drew a large crowd. Soon after, many other artists began to call and ask for space. The building seemed destined to become an art studio.

The Loveland Art Studios on Main is now home to 30 studio spaces. The Custises envision 65 to 70 studios total when the project is completed. But they are in no hurry to finish, as their full-time jobs and an active 2-year-old son keep them preoccupied. After doing all the rehab work themselves, the couple is now contracting out some of the work.

Ironically, it was art that first connected Shawn and Chandra. The couple were introduced by mutual friends at a Friday night event at the Cincinnati Art Museum. Both are avid art lovers, and Shawn is serving as the president of the Loveland Arts Council.
The Loveland Art Studios on Main is now open to the public on the second Saturday of every month.

“Second Saturdays evolved from Mary’s first party," Shawn explains. "As other artists came, they wanted to have parties too."
For the Custises and the Loveland art community, the party is just beginning.
 
Entrepreneurial Lessons Learned
1.  Shawn: Rehabbing commercial buildings is completely different than rehabbing residential buildings.
2.  Chandra: Every contractor bid you get needs to be in writing and signed.
3.  Shawn: Learn to budget utilities.
4.  Chandra: You have to believe in yourself.
5.  Shawn: You have to take risks.