The Atrium mall has been undergoing a basement remodel since late last year, a $250,000 project that owner Dave Shaw has wanted to undertake for nearly two decades.
“I dreamed of this when I bought the building 18 years ago,” Shaw said. “As soon as I could do something with the ground down here to level it, I wanted to do it.”
He said he and his wife Kris started the remodel last year by pulling out the old basement bathrooms and have been working their way through the area ever since.
He also said the redesign is for practical and aesthetic reasons.
On the practical side, he said, they’ve been able to develop about 1,000 square feet of leasable space, and the unlet space can be fairly easily remodeled for new tenants.
Shaw said he’s considering narrowing the pillars in the central area as well to create more space, but he hasn’t made a final decision yet.
He also said the remodeling will give him the opportunity to install a more cost-effective heating system, which will save quite a bit of money in the long run.
Shaw said the building has had some alterations since its construction in the early 1900s, but in 1978 it became an all-electric building, and with 5,500 feet of radiant heating in the floor, the building’s utility bills are enormous.
The building itself has an eventful history. Frank Buttrey moved to Havre in 1902 and opened a shop called The Fair.
This store burned down during the great fire in downtown Havre in 1904 and Buttrey began work on a building he had already designed and later that year opened the department store, which was the first in a chain of department stores and grocery stores in several states. a building that has grown into the three-storey brick building that houses The Atrium.
The department store chain closed in the late 1970s – the grocery store stayed in the space that now houses Office Equipment for a number of years before moving to the newly constructed building that now houses Gary & Leo’s Fresh Foods – and a group of businesspeople of Havre bought the building in 1977 to create the Atrium Mall which Kris and Dave Shaw bought 18 years ago.
Dave Shaw said he plans to do more work on the building, including installing a water-to-water geothermal heat exchanger, which will be far more efficient and significantly reduce utility bills.
He said some areas of the floor have been subsidence for some time because the foundations were set back when the building was constructed, and solving this problem would double or triple the value of the building and make the floors more level.
“It was so uneven that you could hardly put tables here,” he said.
Shaw said the entire project will likely cost a quarter of a million dollars, adding to the $750,000 he’s spent on the building over the years. He said that means he put most of the money the building has made over the years back into the building, but it was worth it.
“I don’t get a lot of money from it, but it does something downtown and keeps things going,” he said.
He said he might want to remodel the other floors, but he needs a little more money to get started.
Although he puts almost all the money he makes back into the building, business is good, with 28 out of 34 seats in The Atrium being rented, including five in the basement.
Shaw said it’s unfortunate that Artititudes has closed, but he wants to keep the Havre Book Exchange running.
He said his mother, Anne Shaw, started the business when she was in her 70s and he wants to do everything he can to ensure it stays that way.
“She put her heart and soul into this bookstore,” he said.
Havre Daily News Managing Editor Tim Leeds contributed to this story.