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Lakeside Firehouse to Reopen as Mini-Mall

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An abandoned firehouse in Highland Park is going retail.

The building sits on an asterisk-shaped intersection dotted with vacant storefronts -- a sign of decay to some, but an opportunity to Kate Johnson.

"When I first saw the sign that they were going to have retail space," she says, "you would have thought I was a child on Christmas morning."

Johnson and three other soon-to-be business owners are taking part in a revitalization effort spearheaded by Boaz & Ruth, a local nonprofit that owns a secondhand shop across from the firehouse.

The plan is to turn the open bay where the fire trucks used to park into a restaurant and bakery, while changing the offices and bedrooms that circle the open floor into tiny one-room shops.

Johnson, a nurse and single mother of four, plans to open a beauty-supply store. Hers will be joined by two secondhand clothing stores, an electronics-repair shop and possibly a Kinko's-like office-support service with copy and fax machines.

As part of the program, the tenants agree to participate in business training, maintain a relationship with a mentor and join the Retail Merchants Association of Greater Richmond.

Construction is being done by local residents — another part of Boaz & Ruth's mission is to rehabilitate the neighborhood by offering employment to its neighbors. Martha Rollins, who heads the organization, sees a satisfying circularity to the arrangement. The people who need revitalizing are the ones revitalizing the neighborhood, she says, calling it "God's economy."

"I've been living here since I was 2," Johnson says. "I just love having the ability to be here and work here and give back."

They hope to have the mini-mall up and running by Sept. 29. S

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