Gene Regier thought he knew what he was taking on last year when buying what’s known as the Wonder Bread building, at 601 N. Emporia about a block south of Via Christi Hospital St. Francis.
“It’s going to need a lot of tender, loving care,” the co-owner of CDK Wichita, a distributor of windows, cabinets and doors, told Have You Heard?
Now, Regier says he knows why it’s called the Wonder building.
“Because we wonder why we bought it sometimes,” he says, perhaps only partly joking.
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The 60,000-square-foot building was built in the 1930s and had a couple of additions through the years.
“It was just such an overwhelming task for us to take on, and we did it all ourselves for the most part,” Regier says. “We’re into that stuff.”
CDK also is keeping its space at 300 W. Murdock where it used to have a showroom. Now, that space will be used entirely for window manufacturing.
“I never thought I’d outgrow that building,” Regier says.
About 15,000 square feet of the new building, which originally was home to the Continental Baking Co., is CDK’s new Wichita showroom while the rest is warehouse space or empty for now and awaiting future development.
Windows and doors are on one side of the new showroom, which has 26-foot ceilings in parts, and cabinets and kitchen displays are on the other.
The building itself is part of the showroom.
“We put new windows in the entire building,” Regier says of CDK windows.
That includes adding windows where previous ones had been bricked over.
Currently, about 60 percent of CDK’s business comes from builders, but Regier says he thinks the new showroom will attract more walk-in customers.
“We hope the retail end of it gets more exciting because I think we’re a more exciting showroom now.”
There were, not surprisingly, some surprises along the way, Regier says. For instance, he discovered the building needed a new sewer system.
“It was all plugged up from nonuse for so long.”
Regier says he wasn’t entirely sure of the remodeling plan from the start. He says he let the building dictate some decisions.
For instance, there are some old stairs in the center part of the showroom that, instead of leading to a second story that collapsed along with part of the building’s roof, now lead to a CDK sign that’s the focal point of the building.
“It didn’t fall down when the rest of it did, so we left it up,” Regier says. “When people come in they think it’s pretty cool.”
That’s been the impression of the building overall, he says.
There are still a few signs that need to go up and some finishing details to be done, but the showroom is open to customers now, and Regier says people have “come in and just been blown away about how it looks.”
“A lot of extra traffic’s coming in because people have been watching it,” he says of the building’s progress.
“We revitalized a building that was falling apart,” he says. “You can’t rebuild something like this from scratch.”
Regier says he tried keeping “that old warehousey look” with vintage-style lights throughout the showroom.
“It about broke me just buying light bulbs for the place.”
He also saved an old Wonder Bread sign along Emporia and put new lights in it so it’s once again working. Regier admits to driving by it at night sometimes just to admire it.
“Oh, yeah. First week I did every night.”
Regier and Curt Hessen, the Tulsa-based founder of CDK, also purchased the Petroleum Building earlier this year and plan renovations and changes there eventually, too.
“We’ve got a few tricks up our sleeve,” Regier says.
Lofts are a possibility.
So are more properties.
“We’ve got our eye on a couple of other buildings downtown,” Regier says.
He says he and Hessen like old buildings. That’s what led them to the Wonder Bread building, where Regier says he remembers coming as a boy and getting a little baker’s hat and a tiny loaf of bread.
“Everybody can be in a strip mall or build a new building, but you come in here and get the wow effect,” Regier says. “That’s what we’re always looking for.”