Renovations bring Cottage Hill storefronts back to life

Updated: Feb. 22, 2021 at 6:05 AM CST
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - The Cottage Hill neighborhood in Montgomery is one of the city’s oldest surviving residential areas, and now some of the district’s oldest commercial buildings are getting a new facelift.

Located on North Goldthwaite Street and about a quarter-mile from the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the historic Eli Capilouto buildings sit. The four connected storefronts overlook downtown Montgomery and have been unoccupied since the early 1930s to mid-1950s.

The buildings are also adjacent to five points, an intersection along the Civil Rights Trail. During the Selma-to-Montgomery march in 1965, marchers came down Montgomery Street as they headed to the state capitol.

Andrew Szymanski and Will O’Connor of Hilltop Development Group purchased the buildings in February of 2020 and have since been in the process of renovating and restoring them to their former glory.

“When we were looking for a place to invest and create our own foothold here in Montgomery, we were really drawn to the historic neighborhoods,” Szymanski said. “I love the architecture, I love preservation and saving a piece of Montgomery’s history, and these are just so centrally located right on the outskirts of downtown, and it’s just a really exciting area to bring some life and activity to.”

Building number seven will soon be home to the Cheesecake Emporiyum. The business has plans to move from its current location off of Mulberry Street and occupy this new space.

Building number five has already been restored and is currently being occupied by the salon “Seville at Hilltop.” The building actually used to be a salon for the neighborhood back in the 1940s.

“To have that kind of synergy and show that we have revitalized this space to really honor what it was originally intended to be built for was super cool for us,” Szymanski said.

During the pandemic, Andrew and Will struggled to find tenants to fill buildings three and one, so they decided to open up small businesses of their own to fill the spaces.

“We are bringing a coffee shop and a bar and a bicycle shop up here ourselves, so we are really excited about that,” Szymanski said.

Building three is where “Cottage Hill Public House” will be. Will and Andrew plan to share the space with Capitol City Bicycle Repair & Service. The building will be used as both a bicycle repair shop and a fun bar to hang out after work.

Building number one is where they’ll open “Hilltop Coffee Company,” an original coffee shop.

“So we’re going to have this kind of multi-dimensional kind of everything the neighborhood needs; hair, food, coffee, beer, bicycles, it’s going to be a lot of fun up here,” Szymanski said.

When Szymanski and O’Connor purchased the four buildings, they also acquired 410 Clayton Street. The property is an open field behind the buildings right now, but Szymanski said they have big plans for the space.

“We really hope to transform this big green yard into a wonderful community gathering space for the Cottage Hill neighborhood,” Szymanski said. “I can envision a day when we have picnic tables out here, and people are bringing their dogs and their families and getting out of the house.”

Neither Andrew nor Will are from Montgomery, but the developers both felt that if they were going to live here during this point in their careers, they wanted to be invested in the city.

“Will and I told ourselves if we were going to stay in Montgomery, we were going to make a meaningful investment ourselves to kind of make this place a place that we wanted to live,” Szymanski said.

Overall, they hope that by revitalizing these buildings, more businesses and growth will make their way into the Cottage Hill community.

“We hope that we’re proving a concept that attracts more investment, more small business, and more development of the commercial spaces here,” Szymanski said.

Szymanski said they hope to have the buildings re-developed by the end of 2021.

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