Pleasant St. Theatre Owner
Buys Ross Bros. Building
By EDWARD SHANAHAN
The Ross Bros. building at 28 North Maple St, home of a Florence institution for almost 20 years, has been purchased by Robert Lawton, owner of the Pleasant Street Theatre, who plans to renovate the 16,000 square foot structure to provide space for shops, offices and studios.
Details of the purchase price were not disclosed by either Robert Ross, owner of the Ross Bros. antiques business or Lawton, who lives on Trinity Row in Florence. The building, which Robert Ross and his brother Hank bought in 1986, is assessed by the city for tax purposes at $283,300.
The sale has been in the works for about a year, according to Lawton, who said he got involved last March just prior to a planned auction of the property to pay off debt owed to the Florence Savings Bank.
At the time, he said he paid off the bank loan in exchange for an agreement to buy the building himself. “I bought out the bank,” said Lawton. “I’m the bank.”
Expressing disappointment that the building had to be sold, Robert Ross said holding on to it “wasn’t an option for me. It was time for a change.”
In an interview, Robert Ross, 44, said in preparation for the transfer of the building to Lawton, that he “bought out” his brother and business partner of more than 20 years, “a couple of weeks ago.”
The landmark building, home to Norwood Engineering during Florence’s industrial heyday, dates back to the early part of the 20th Century.
Robert Ross said that shortly after he and his brother bought the building in 1986, the economy went into a slide and they were never able to finance changes to the building that might have make it a more feasible investment.
In fact, they were never able to heat the building in the winter because of the expense.
“If I had a choice,” Robert Ross said, “I would have developed it differently 15 years ago.” One plan, he said, was to create living loft space, “but Florence wasn’t ready for that.”
According to Robert Ross, he intends to relocate the business to a site at 77 West St. in Hatfield later in March. His brother will not be involved in the relocated venture, although the business will continue to be called Ross Bros.
In an interview, Hank Ross, who has been working recently in sales for Murphy Real Estate, said he eventually plans to be back in the antiques business, using the name H.E. Ross.
Both Hank and Robert Ross come out of a family tradition of buying and selling antique furniture and other items. Over the years, their parents operated antique shops in Chesterfield, on Bridge Street and Pleasant Street in Northampton and at Thorne’s marketpalce.
Robert and Hank initially went into business in 1982 when they opened a shop at 15 Hawley St. Four years later, they purchased the Florence structure for $225,000, according to Robert Ross, from Calduwood Enterprises and over the years the idiosyncratic contents of the cavernous building continued to proliferate.
According to Robert Ross, he and his brother “tried to defy labels” as to the nature of their business, which he described as dealing in “architectural salvage, outdoor items, wooden boats and canoes.” In terms of the buying and selling of canoes, the Ross Bros. has a national reputation, Robert Ross said
As recently as two years ago, Ross Bros. opened a downtown branch at the corner of Pleasant and Main Streets, which they operated for about two years.
The business continues to sell items through its website, RossBros. com.
The daunting task facing Robert Ross was trying to ready the interior of the building for a two-day auction that was held March 11 and 12 with the actual transfer of the property to Lawton set for March 14. Will the transfer actually take place then. “We can only hope,” said Lawton.
Both Ross brothers expressed the hope that ways would be found to the prevent “this magnificent space from being dissected,” as Robert put it.
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