138 Main St W :: Main Street Art, Eliza’s Pottery: Eliza Wolfe
Eliza Wolfe’s Main Street Art, a retail space and art gallery at 138 Main Street West has been a part of the fabric of Girard’s Main Street since 2005, but the building itself has been there for much longer. Built in 1861, this Civil War Era Italianate building has seen a lot of Girard residents come and go. riginally this storefront was the residence and business of John T. Simmons and his wife Celestia Simmons. John and Celestia were both descendants of some of the earliest colonial settlers of America from Rhode Island and Massachusetts in the 1600s, both John and Celestia being a son and daughter of the American Revolution. John’s father, George Simmons, owned a large farm in Springfield, PA. By 1850 John was learning the trade of leather work and eventually started his own Harness and Saddle shop in the storefront at 138 Main St W in Girard in 1861. The Simmons family lived and worked there for decades. They had one daughter, Emma Simmons-Hiler, whose husband, E.H. Hiler was a jeweler and kept his business in the second storefront in the building at Main and Myrtle, eventually putting on an addition in the 1880s. The Saddlery business was taken over by E.L. Hanson upon John’s death in 1886.
Over the years, the storefront morphed into a number of different businesses including a bar, butcher shop, computer store, political campaign office, a cafe, a balloon store, barber shop etc. Eliza purchased the property in 1990 and converted the two-storefront property into a single storefront to house her retail, gallery and studio space, where she also holds art instruction classes. Main Street Art is a celebration of local art: “I have pieces from different artists from all over Erie county for sale, all different mediums: photography, jewelry, pottery, paintings. Everyone featured is from Erie County.” Eliza states that when she moved into the building, she knew she was taking on a big project; with a building that is 160 years old one expects to take on a good deal of maintenance. She was very thankful, therefore, to learn about the Facade Improvement Grant Program available through Girard Borough
Girard Borough’s Facade Improvement Grant Program is funded through a Mission Main Street Grant from ECGRA. Property and business owners within the designated downtown boundary (Main Street from the east borough line to Old Ridge Rd and Rice Avenue from Main Street to Vine Street) are eligible to apply. Grant funding can cover up to 50% of costs for approved exterior improvements, which means that eligible property owners end up paying half of the total cost of their exterior projects and funding can be matched from as little as $200 all the way up to $10,000.
Utilizing the funds available through the grant program, Eliza was able to give the exterior of her storefront a major facelift by replacing the siding and repainting and restoring the historic details and bracketing in the eaves of the roof. And while this project was definitely on her list for a long time, it was the availability of the funding that spurred her to start the project when she did: “It was something I would have loved to do on my own, but It was very cost prohibitive, so the grant enabled me to actually do it.”
The current revitalization of Main Street in Girard gives Eliza such joy to see and makes her feel thankful to be a part of it: “I was one of the businesses that was here before the revitalization started and it was really depressing. I tried to be there as a shining light and a lot of people did start coming in. A lot of building owners have taken advantage of the grant program and it’s really wonderful to see the place come alive. I believe that it’s very uplifting for people to drive through and see that there is a business here, it’s not just an empty space going to waste. It’s a vibrant, alive town and seeing work done gives me hope.”
Not only has Eliza brightened up Main Street by providing a thriving business and refreshing and restoring a historic storefront, she also is a part of the group of artists who volunteered their time to paint the mural across the street at Myrtle and Main. “We did that out of our hearts to give something to the community to be hopeful and make people remember that this town has a lot of history to be proud of and that it really is a great community.”
Written By: Erin Phillips