When Jeff Bisger started cleaning out and renovating the Lipsitz Department Store building a year ago, it was a dusty museum of the family who lived and worked in the downtown-Beaufort landmark for a century.
Today, it's a much different place, and Bisger is preparing to open the first of several businesses he hopes will make the building a retail and art destination.
Two businesses are set to open downstairs -- a market by the owners of Griffin Market Italian restaurant, and a store Bisger wouldn't reveal because negotiations are still under way.
The 1,400-square-foot market, Cose Buone, is expected to open in mid-April, according to co-owner Riccardo Bonino. Among the items for sale will be wine, cheese, bread, pasta and sauces as well as espresso to take home or drink on the spot.
The retailer plans a 3,200-square-foot store, Bisger said.
Upstairs, 16 artists have agreed to share studios and a gallery called Atelier on Bay, where visitors are free to roam about as they shop for artists' work and watch it being created. Beaufort artist Mary Segars and Bisger's wife, Kimberly, inspired the artist loft.
"I was trying to recapture our guest house, which his wife has taken over as an art studio," Bisger said.
To get the studio out of the guest house,Bisger decided to turn part of the upstairs into a five-artist studio. The rest of the 5,800 square feet upstairs was originally envisioned as apartments.
But word about the studio spread quickly through the art community, Bisger said, and he realized there was a demand for more space.
Now the entire upstairs will now become a maze of studios, gallery space and a classroom. That approach works with the unusual layout of the building, which once was divided into apartments and has several areas accessible only by walking through other rooms.
Bisger is creating a map of the upper floor so people can find their way to specific artists.
The first group of studios will open March 1, he said. The rest are expected to open April 1.
"I think this will be a real destination for the downtown," Bisger said.
The building dates to 1883, according to the Historic Beaufort Foundation, and became a department store in 1902, when Max Lipsitz started a business there. Three generations of his family tended shop there, and some family members lived upstairs until the 1940s.
The store closed in February 2009 after 107 years.
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