Grosse Pointe Farms couple transforming Eastern Market space

Candice Williams
The Detroit News
Beatrice Wolnerman, 27, and her husband, Eli Wolnerman, 26, both of Grosse Pointe Farms, pose in front of a meat scale and polley system at their building in Eastern Market. They are renovating the former 1930s meat-packing building into a retail space, coffee bar, warehouse space and co-working membership business where they will also operate their businesses "Open Me When" and "Bea's."

Detroit — A Grosse Pointe Farms couple plans to transform a vacant former meat warehouse in Eastern Market into a retail, workshop and coworking space by this spring.

Eli and Beatrice Wolnerman, co-founders of gifting business Open Me When, recently purchased the nearly 4,000-square-foot building at 1533 Winder. They'll call the space Bea’s.

"This is so exciting," Beatrice Wolnerman said. "To have your own space in Detroit and interact with the people, this is what I enjoy doing most."

The couple had been looking to move their business from out of their home when they found a building in Eastern Market with a "For Lease" sign. They took a look at it and offered to purchase the building for cash. The sales price: $525,000.

“It wasn’t officially on the market,” Beatrice Wolnerman said. “We just got very lucky. Right place. Right time.”

The Wolnermans launched their gifting business, Open Me When, in August 2017. Their first retail exposure was during Bedrock’s holiday markets last winter where they sold individually wrapped unique gifts.

The business grew from there.

“We’ve been working out of our home,” Beatrice Wolnerman said. “We’ve gotten to the point where we were working in our basement and then we moved into our living room and now it’s in hallways. There’s boxes everywhere. We’re like, it’s time to move.”

Plans for the building include masonry work on the exterior and a total interior rehab. The front of the building will have retail, a coffee bar and event space, while the rear will house operations for Open Me When. An upstairs area will provide office and conference room space for small businesses. 

"Our goal is open and flexible," said Eli Wolnerman.

When the couple first sought places to rent, nothing fit their needs. What they found was coworking spaces with desks and computers, but no warehouse space. They decided to purchase a building for themselves and also plan to offer warehouse space to rent for other businesses.

Open Me When merchandise is displayed outside the building.

One may recognize the building on Winder with its white, black and yellow chicken and egg themed mural painted during Eastern Market’s Mural in the Markets in 2017. The Wolnermans say they like the mural, but it will have to be removed for the masonry repairs. They may replace the mural with another.

The building dates back to 1930. Old newspaper advertisements show that it once housed K. Shapiro Inc, Wholesale Veal and Lamb. Much of the interior of the building is a former refrigeration space with large heavy doors and an old meat scale.

Grosse Pointe-based Holcomb Development will design the building, which will have an industrial-chic interior.

“Part of our goal is to seem like we’ve been around since the start of Eastern Market,” Eli Wolnerman said.

Bea Wolnerman added: “We fit in with the community, not be those people who come in and change things.”

Bea’s will be a welcomed addition to Eastern Market, said Dan Carmody, president of the Eastern Market Corp.

“We’re also excited about the coworking space that provides affordable space for a variety of independent small businesses,” Carmody said.

The building is like many in the district that need improvement, Carmody said. 

“It needs investment,” Carmody said. “There’s a lot of deferred maintenance that needs to be addressed. They have a pretty good plan to address it… They’re trying to take advantage of the historic character of the building.”

Carmody said that there are a few vacant buildings in the area with owners who have plans or are trying to figure out what to do with the buildings.

The Wolnermans join other businesses that have recently moved into the area, including Eastern Market Brewing Co., whose owners renovated their building down the street on Riopelle.

Dayne Bartscht, a managing partner of brewery, says he knows what it’s like undertake a renovation project. He said that before they opened a year ago, the brewery's building was in rougher shape than the Wolnerman’s building.

“There are a lot of similarities,” Bartscht said. “It was also meat packing. We had an old Toledo scale like they do. We did as much as we could to maintain the look and feel of the building. It seems similar to what Beatrice and Eli want to do.”

Bartscht said he likes the enthusiasm the Wolnermans have for their project.

“They have their own successful business,” he said. “Renovating an old building in Eastern Market is a task on its own. I see the excitement in their eyes that we had when we started this business. Hopefully, they can continue that forward. It's pretty ambitious.”

Twitter: @CWilliams_DN