Hicks building being renovated

Filed under: Headline,In Our Community |

Hick's-Buildingby Fred Groves

The oldest commercial building in Essex Centre is in the early stages of being renovated.

Located at the corner of Talbot and Laird on the main street, the three-story brick structure, known locally as the Hicks Block, is going to be restored and it seems the future possibilities are limitless.

“We have someone interested in the third floor with an open concept. They want a five-year lease,” said contractor Rob Soulliere who bought the historic gem two months ago.

When he talks about the Hicks Block, Soulliere’s excitement and interest is hard to contain. He and his company have already begun gutting the third floor and some major rejuvenation work has been done on the outside of the building, thanks in part to financial backing from the Town’s Community Improvement Program.

“We are delighted to see a concerted effort on behalf of the owner of the Hicks building in restoring an important artifact from our past,” Essex Assistant Planner Rita Jabbour said, who is also the Secretary/Treasurer of the Town’s Heritage Committee.
Before he purchased it, Soulliere not only envisioned the possibilities and future opportunities, but he took into consideration the historical significance.

“I sat across the street and I knew it was old. I just sat and read those engravings,” he said.

In 1881, J.A. Hicks, whose family was from Ireland, built the solid structure when Essex was in its infancy. There are two large beautiful stone reminders in the middle of the brick facade that now, cleaned up, are easy to read.

The top one ‘Enterprise Lodge 218 IOOF, Instituted March 13, 1879’ indicates that the local lodge was founded before they even moved into the Hicks building. The other reveals a lot more, ‘J.A. Hicks, MG Goates contractor-builder, WH Edgar carpenter 1881.’

“It was a different age and a different time. I got caught up in it,” Soulliere said.

He said that restoring the building could revitalize the Town’s downtown and said he is looking at perhaps adding a fourth floor, a rooftop patio, and added that once complete, the lower level could be used as a Tourist Information Centre.

Soulliere said that the Hicks Block is structurally sound and the brick work, both inside and out is in very good shape. He wants to keep the integrity of the building that at one-time housed Dobson and Habkirk Furniture store.

Now it has a restaurant on the ground floor, four apartments on the second, and the third top floor is an open concept that was a living space before renovations began.

“This is a nice place for an establishment, but you have to clean it up. You can profit from a building for so long, but then you have to give back.”

Soulliere does not know how much or how long it will take to bring the Hicks building back to its glory days, but he is certain and very passionate when he says, “I feel like I have won the historical lottery.”