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Vintage Venue celebrates the past, present and future of Beatrice

The former home of RadioShack, Vintage Venue at 620 Court Street in Beatrice is a wealth of forgotten history.

Vintage Venue officially opened its doors on Friday night for A Taste of Spring, an event for Main Street Beatrice. It was nine months in the making and took hundreds of hours of preparation to bring the building to its current state.

The building started its life in 1924 as the Spiegel Overland Car Company, a two story car dealership that sold Packards and Willys automobiles. There was even an elevator to lift cars up to the second level for display and for repair work.

In the 1930s, a Dodge and Plymouth dealer moved in and after that, it was an International Harvester tractor dealership.

Its look transformed when RadioShack moved in. Most of the windows were sealed up and the lath and plaster walls and ceilings were replaced with a drop ceiling and drywall and the hardwood was covered with a subfloor and carpeting.

When RadioShack’s owners retired, that’s when Colleen and John Schoneweis stepped in. They own Colleen’s Catering, which provides food for events around the area. They’d spent about five years looking for a place downtown to host weddings and events, but had come up empty-handed.

“At that point we had given up,” Colleen said.

They got a call with a tip that RadioShack’s owners were selling the business. They went for it, hoping there’d be something classic hiding under the modern facade.

They bought it as-is and the first step was hammering off a corner of the plaster and praying for brick. Under layers of drywall and plaster, there were the bricks.

The next step was to tear up the carpet, Colleen said. They tore off the first pieces and found a subfloor, which was a little disheartening, but once they broke through that, they found the original hardwood floors.

The floors were covered with nails and glue and decades of auto shop damage and they needed some work. Most of the wood was salvageable, save for the part nearest the elevator that cars had driven over for decades. They replaced that small section with new flooring and sanded down the rest.
The drop ceiling was removed, revealing the wooden beams and supports, as well as the original knob and tube wiring that had been hand-drilled through the beams 90-some years before. They left the original wiring in place for decoration, but had the electricity updated using modern, safer techniques.

They replaced the heating and air conditioning with a 25-ton roof unit. The plumbing was upgraded and the smaller, old bathrooms were refurbished with hand-made wooden stalls.

The new venue boasts 5,000 square feet of usable space and can seat more than 400 and hold upwards of 600 people if they’re standing.

“As a caterer, you've heard for years that there's a demand for this, but there's nothing local that compares,” John said. “It's big enough and people want the vintage look, too. If you go to the Haymarket, you see this look. That's where we got the idea.”

The windows had been boarded up with two-by-fours, drywall and plaster, but they were replaced as well, using a $60,000 façade improvement grant from the city of Beatrice. Previously, the storefront only had a small window up front, but after being replaced, a line of windows lets daylight into the building, just like it had when it was originally built.

“It was so amazing to be in here working as the windows went in,” John said. “It got lighter and lighter and lighter.”

They booked their first appointment for a June wedding back in July and their first gala on Friday night brought in more than 200 people.

People have been watching the progress of the building since it began around nine months ago, Colleen said. Sometimes so much that it will stop traffic, John said.

“There’s lots of horn honking to get going,” he said. “We hear the honking.”

“There was one time I was looking at it when I was heading out,” Colleen said. “I had to quit doing that, I can just go inside.”

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