Real estate developer and interior decorator Catherine Surianello has a passion for historic homes, especially those that need a lot of work. The more neglected they are, the more she likes them.
"There's a character and charm – and grace – that can't be purchased," said Surianello.
She knows of what she speaks. Her property, a stone house from 1850 with a carriage house to the rear at 9060 Main St. in Clarence, recently was named a historic landmark by the town and its Historic Preservation Commission.
Saving properties that face a wrecking ball or might be bulldozed to make way for a new house or business has been the mission of the commission since it was formed in 2007. In that time, the group has given local historic designations to 22 properties. Two others were placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Surianello's building received some extra local fame last week when the current occupant, Monkey See, Monkey Do bookstore, was named Business of the Year by the Clarence Chamber of Commerce.
Bookstore owner Kim Krug said people thought she was crazy when she decided to open a bookstore in the era of online streaming and computer games. But she has made it work with a business model that capitalizes on the building's history. The store has books tucked into protruding window seats that become display shelves, jungle themes, murals on the walls, exposed hand-hewn wooden beams, reading nooks, and a variety of activities that Krug says "bring books to life with interactive experiences" – from princess tea parties and bedtime stories to reading programs and author-led workshops.
"It's been magical," said Krug. "This property has been so wonderful."
Carol Conwall, chairwoman of the Historic Preservation Commission, said the the bookstore's success is proof that historic properties can be adapted and reused. Doing so adds to the building's value and maintains the town's character. She noted that a tax incentive also is available for protecting a historic property.
"The economic value our heritage brings to the community is important," she said.
Surianello purchased the home – also known as the Charles Snell house – 10 years ago. A carriage house behind the main building is being used by Fashion Lab – for budding clothing designers – and by the Young Engineers of Buffalo.
This is the second building for which Surianello has received a historic preservation designation. The other is known as the railroad master's house in Clarence Hollow at 10750 Main St. It is now part of Brickhall in the Hollow, an events venue and former church, owned by Kathy and David DeRose.
"I got this one designated historic so it couldn't ever be demolished," said Surianello. "The Derose family brought the properties back together again. Now that whole property is back the way it should be."