Woodmere building is a true fit for several companies

TRAVERSE CITY – The silver block-letter Tru Fit Trouser sign identifies the building where the former clothing manufacturer once operated on Woodmere Avenue. The company has been gone nearly 15 years, but the building has a new life.

Local developer and builder/renovator Eric Gerstner bought the building a little over a year ago after driving by it for years and seeing nothing but an old, neglected structure. An architect by trade, Gerstner realized long ago that renovating-rather than new construction-is what he most enjoys.

"I like to work with something that's already there," he said. "I like to think of what it can become."

As for the old building on Woodmere, initially he didn't see much.

"It looked like a low building, long and wide," Gerstner said. But once inside, he looked up at the 12-foot ceilings and saw an opportunity to lease or sell space at a mid-range price in a new building.

Although the 22,000 square-foot building was a vacant shell, the rows of lights that once illuminated the work benches were still there, as was the time clock.

"I like a building with a history," Gerstner said. "The industry that used to be (on Woodmere) moved out of these buildings and either left (entirely) or went to industrial parks."

He has restored the building with the original concrete floor and exposed ceiling trusses. Richmond Architects designed the interior floor plan and exterior of the building, and Anita Silverman did the landscaping.

The development is made for businesses that don't want to be in an industrial park or a strip mall, and don't have the foot traffic of a downtown location.

The Jenkins Group, a custom publishing services firm with very little foot traffic, is just that kind of company. Jenkins was the first occupant, buying a 2,500 square-foot space in the Tru Fit building and moving from its downtown location in April. After renting for five years in the Johnson Center (corner of Hall and Front streets), Chairman and CEO Jerry Jenkins was looking to grow equity.

"It's much cheaper to own here than to rent downtown," said Jenkins.

Downtown rents range from $18 to $22 a square foot; Gerstner is leasing space for $10 to $12 a square foot, and all the current tenants have an option to buy.

Mary and Joe Winowiecki of Northern Office Interiors moved the business to the Tru Fit Trouser building from South Airport Road in June.

"We were very impressed by Eric's vision and felt that the Tru Fit Trouser building's 'retro industrial' feel would be perfect for a commercial interior design and furnishings firm like ours," Mary Winowiecki said. "It's very 'industrial chic'!"

As of mid-August, the Tru Fit Trouser building was two-thirds full, Gerstner said. Other tenants include Northern Office Equipment, Habitat for Humanity, ReStore, and Iron Keep Technologies.

The long and short of it…

The Tru Fit Trouser company began in southern Illinois making men's and boys' trousers. Abe Neiman moved the operation here in 1939 with his father, who owned the company before him, and his wife Doris. The company was first located across Woodmere on the Boardman Lake side and moved into the now renovated location when that building was constructed in the early 1950s, said Doris Neiman in a recent conversation. Abe passed away in 1997, but Doris still spends part of the year in Traverse City.

The company manufactured trousers and then ladies' slacks and shorts and even quilted robes, Neiman said. During World War II, the company produced army trousers and eventually started making police and postal uniforms.

Tru Fit Trouser employed some 100 people in its heyday, many of whom were women who worked the pressing tables and as seamstresses and inspectors, she said. The plant closed shortly after Abe sold it in 1992.

The Woodmere Avenue reconstruction project that began over two years ago is a stark contrast to the street long abandoned by much of the industry that used to line it.

"We think it's great to see an older part of the city get such a nice facelift," Winowiecki said. "These are the type of property improvements that help prevent sprawl and help keep Traverse City's outlying areas natural."

For information on available space, call 409-4100. BN

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