May 15, 2015
It has been a busy two and a half years.
My husband and I acquired the Volland Store in the Fall of 2013. The goal was to make sure the building wouldn’t be torn down. Period. The walls were still strong, and the building held too many memories to let it be sold for bricks and vanish from the community.
When I was discussing the possible sale with the owner, who is the granddaughter of Otto Kratzer, I told her I hadn’t any idea of what I would do with the building. I respected its history and saw its potential for historical designation and restoration, but I didn’t know if any of those things were possible. I didn’t know if I would keep it or sell it.
The only thing I could promise was that I would not tear it down. Then came the decisions and soul searching.
The first decisions were easy: Clean out the debris from the collapse of the roof and the second and first floors. Cut down weed trees and poison ivy. To keep the building standing, it needed a roof. To have a roof, the walls needed to be stable. Structural engineers came and gave opinions. Local guys offered their own ideas. In the end, local wisdom prevailed, and we moved forward.
Even with a roof, the empty shell needed an inner structure to keep it from collapsing like a folded cardboard box when the Kansas winds blew. I began to learn terms like “wind shear.” Meetings with a structural engineer, an architect, and a designer made my head spin at times, but the new knowledge was stimulating.
I had renovated intact buildings before, but I had never started from scratch. This was exciting.
Then came the design of the interior, which would depend on how the building would be used.
That was when the soul searching began.
A retail store? No. That decision was easy. The store had flourished when the railroad and cattle shipping industries were strong in Volland, but when that economy went away, so did the population. Retail wasn’t an option.
Guest rooms on the second floor? An intriguing thought. There probably would be a market for it, but it sounded complicated, and besides, I had grown attached to the light that poured in from the second-story windows and filled the open space. The deciding factor was that guest rooms on the second floor, with all that entailed, would be more expensive than one floor.
A gathering place for the community? This was my first choice.
I had observed that Wabaunsee County has a busy social calendar: class reunions, family reunions and holiday dinners, K-State Extension-sponsored events, Relay for Life events, farm sales, annual meetings of community organizations. However, rental fees for those events would probably not entirely support the maintenance of the building.
Cultural and educational center? I liked the idea of having a space where music groups could perform, artists could exhibit, writers could discuss their work, and students of all ages could put their talents on display. The presenters could come from anywhere.
They would bring in new ideas, just as Otto imported the newest ideas into his community so many years ago.
I envisioned residents of the Flint Hills enjoying these offerings. And I imagined that others with a fascination for the Flint Hills would be intrigued by what was happening here and come to see.
The question remained: What would this sustain the building?
Event center? This seemed the biggest potential for earning enough income to sustain the building so that it could remain open for community, social and cultural uses. It would require spreading the word and hiring staff to manage the venture, but I had confidence that enough people would find this space and its Flint Hills setting unique and appealing.They would want to have their events here.
As I write this, I must admit that these ideas were not so clearly developed at the beginning. You might say that this project has been a perfect example of:
“Ready, fire, aim.”
We were ready, we fired, and now we aim.
You are invited to come enjoy this place and help us hit the target!