The Economic Growth Gallery (EGG), located on Northeast Kansas City’s main thoroughfare, Independence Avenue, has an exciting opportunity for a large-scale renovation.
Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce CEO Bobbi Baker-Hughes announced that the chamber applied to receive the 2019 Partners in Preservation: Main Streets $150,000 grant.
This year’s Partners in Preservation campaign focuses on spotlighting sites that are rich in women’s history and highlight the contribution of women in Main Street communities across America.
Through the campaign, Partners in Preservation, an initiative created by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is seeking to uncover and spotlight women who are often unrecognized in American history and society.
Of the 100 applications submitted, the EGG made it to the top 20.
“The reason, I believe,” said Baker-Hughes “is because they loved the story of the building.”
Built in 1945 by an Italian immigrant family, the building was constructed to house Rose Marie’s Floral and Gift Shop.
Owned by Italian immigrants, this specialty shop served the Northeast community with floral arrangements as well as merchandise from Italy such as lamps, cards, and figurines.
With Passantino Bros. Funeral Home a few blocks down Independence Avenue, the floral shop established itself as the most sought-after store for arrangements.
For the next 50 years, Rose Marie grew her business to include the sale of annuals and perennials that she grew in two greenhouses that were constructed at the rear of her building.
Rose Marie employed “Aunt” Virginia Goiania, a young assistant who worked with Rose until the shop’s closing, and “Aunt” Jenny Raccuglia, who assisted Rose Marie during busy seasons, but who also cooked daily meals for the crew using a kitchen that was added onto the building.
In 1996, Rose Marie closed her shop after five decades of serving the Northeast community.
After the closing, the building fluctuated between various businesses, unable to find a lasting home.
In August 2016, the Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce acquired the building and transformed it into a small business incubator and art gallery.
Today, the building is operated to mostly to aid International women and artists succeed in pursuing and achieving their dreams by offering a brick and mortar space to showcase their products and services.
It also offers an incubation program for small businesses to receive valuable business advice such as branding, marketing, and tax services.
To further demonstrate the chamber’s support for International women small business owners, a mural was commissioned to be placed along the east facade of the building depicting the portraits of three immigrant/refugee women who now own and operate businesses along the International Marketplace.
“Three Strong Women” by Zac Laman shows Rhahima, Elvira, and Rose, women from Africa, Central America, and Asia who represent International women of the Northeast community.
Baker-Hughes said the building’s long history in the Northeast, its past, and the work it is doing in the community today, has catapulted it above other historical sites that applied for the grant.
“It has deep roots in the Northeast and [Rose Marie’s] family is very supportive of the grant request,” she said. “We have talked to them, they told us stories, and they are involved in the process.”
Baker-Hughes said the building is not only a place to showcase women’s products and services, but it is a place to grow community.
“The dollars have to be used in the community,” she said. “What that does is create a space for the community, a small event space, additional gallery space, and better entry access. We are excited about this project because it can do so much for the community.”
Designed in the post-war Streamline Moderne international style of Art Deco architecture and design, the building is included on Kansas City’s Art Deco Survey, created in 1989.
The Art Deco or Moderne first became a widely popular style in the United States in the late 1920s. It is characterized by its linear, hard edge or angular composition, and often includes colored reflecting glass, glass block, or terra cotta.
With the grant, large-scale renovations could be made to the EGG, including a variegated metal string course, restoring the glass blocks in the windows, reverting the framing from wood back to aluminum, creating two glass block columns, extending the portico porch outward, and creating period-appropriate signage.
“It could sure use an update and upgrade and be brought back to its Art Deco style and really be a showstopper on the center point of the Avenue,” said Baker-Hughes.
Now, the Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce is looking to the community to help the EGG win the grant.
To win, the building must get the most votes. Community members are able to vote for the EGG everyday from now until October 29, up to five times a day.
Voters then have a chance to win a sweepstakes to receive a 3-day, 2-night trip to Washington D.C., which includes round-trip airfare, hotel accommodations, two tickets to President Lincoln’s Cottage, a $500 gift card, and more.
The Northeast Kansas City Chamber of Commerce will also be holding an event Wednesday, October 23 at the EGG to further promote the campaign and is open to the public.
The Halloween-themed event will include a showing of the original black-and-white film “The Little Shop of Horrors” and will have all the amenities of the 1950s movie version.
“It has so much opportunity and this grant would really allow us to go in and do something for the community to make it into a great event space,” said Baker-Hughes. “We don’t just have a building. We have community.”
To vote, visit nekcchamber.com or scan the QR code below.