ALTON — The Milton Schoolhouse is reputed to be haunted, but any shivers three of the resident business owners felt July 3 were likely of joy, not fear.
Massage at Milton, Carpunky Photography and Maeva’s Coffee were voted best in their class in the 2015 AdVantage News Readers’ Choice Awards.
The 111-year-old schoolhouse owes its current version of life to the hard work of entrepreneurs Meredith and Joel Elliott. The couple bought the 85,000-square-foot building in 2009 and has been steadily renovating it ever since, adding businesses over time and creating cozy nooks perfect for chats or reading.
Milton Schoolhouse, 1320 Milton Road, is home to 10 businesses, including the three winners.
Massage at Milton
“They like me, they really like me.”
Bobbie Brooks says that’s the feeling she had when she found out she was voted Best Massage Therapist.
“Business is great,” she says.
Brooks has spent the past 10 years offering massage services, first at a high-end spa in Edwardsville, then launching her own business in April 2013 when she moved into the Milton Schoolhouse.
“I was happy where I was but they offered to build the studio to suit, so I reconsidered,” she says.
Her business is in Suite 2B, on the east end of the building behind Maeva’s.
Brooks offers massages ranging from light and relaxing to deep tissue, including prenatal and hot stone treatments. Add-on treatments for hands and feet, such as scrubs and reflexology, also are available.
Born in Alton, Brooks used to live on Milton Road.
“It’s nice to come back home,” she says. “I used to ride my bike here when it was Intaglio Glass works. Now my dad comes up to the coffee shop every day.”
Massage therapy is her day job but Brooks’ hobby is ghost hauntings.
“I don’t want anyone to be scared because they might already be so,” says Brooks of the oft-told stories of the allegedly haunted building. “I told them (the ghosts), ‘We can co-exist, just please don’t scare my clients.’”
She’s enjoyed watching the Elliotts transform the building from “a creepy schoolhouse to a beautiful building. They’ve done a lot here. It’s so full of life again.”
Brooks also noted that there were a several women-owned businesses there.
“That’s really cool that it’s a hub,” she says.
One look at the photographs on Carrie Carpunky’s website and it’s easy to see why she was voted Best Photographer. Her studio is in Suite 1D on the lower level of the schoolhouse.
When Carpunky first saw the space in 2012, she didn’t like it but couldn’t stop thinking about it.
“Nothing was finished and I’d be just one of two people in the basement. I don’t like basements,” she says. “Once I went to look again, I changed my mind.”
She was intrigued by the character of the space, the brickwork and, most of all, by what’s become her favorite setting — a woodpile out back.
“I shoot there all the time. I love it. It has purple flowers in summer, weeds that turn red in fall.”
Carpunky started her photography business about five years ago in her in-law’s basement. Before that, she was like any new parent recording her growing child.
“My daughter was born with spina bifida. When she started reaching the milestones they said she wouldn’t, such as walking, it became more than just a scrapbook. I started taking photos in earnest and it just progressed from there.”
Carpunky loves to photograph children and newborns, when she can get her “baby fix” but send them home later.
“It’s been newborn city lately,” she says. “People are having babies like crazy. I normally do three newborns a month. In June I did nine and I have six or seven scheduled in August.”
“Never in a million years did I imagine I’d be this busy. I thought it would be just a hobby. I love it.”
Maeva’s Coffee is the brainchild of Meredith and Joel Elliott. The couple moved from Springfield to Alton and took a leap of faith when they bought the derelict schoolhouse with the intention of turning it into a “place for innovators, dreamers, bold visionaries, entrepreneurs, inventors, artists, daring pioneers and renaissance people.”
Meredith Elliott, 28, says they were “pleased” to learn the coffee shop won best in its category.
Maeva’s was born of a crowd-funding campaign that raised $16,000 with the help of 228 backers. Construction began in February 2014 and the coffee shop opened in June 2014.
“Alton didn’t have a coffee shop. They (residents) told us they wanted one, so we built Maeva’s,” she says.
Another crowd-funding campaign raised $12,000 in 15 days, half the time the Elliotts planned. The money will go toward constructing a 1,300-square-foot patio, making Milton Schoolhouse accessible to all businesses on the main floor.
“We’ve had so much foot and bike traffic in the past three years it made sense to provide an outdoor space for everyone to use,” she says. They hope to have the patio completed by the end of September.
The patio also will be home to a giant chess set.
“Pretty much everyone plays chess here,” she says. “A high school student and friend of the shop gave a chess board to Maeva’s last winter and things snowballed from there. Hosting tournaments and building chess into our patio are a reflection of the interests of our neighborhood.”
Templar Brewing moving in
A move is in the works for Templar Brewing. The Blevens family will relocate the brewery from 331 Belle St. to a warehouse on the Milton Schoolhouse property. It also will open a 600-square-foot taproom with extra seating on a patio being built behind Maeva’s Coffee. A variety of beers will be on tap, and other local beers and wine will be available.
When the brewery started two years ago, they considered space at the Milton Schoolhouse but it didn’t work out, Richard Blevens says.
“We recently reconnected and they fell in love with the idea of putting in a taproom at Milton Schoolhouse,” Blevens says.
They expect to open in about three months after paperwork and licensing requirements are complete.
“The taproom will be low-key,” he says. “We’ll have music but no loud bands. We want this to be more for social gatherings.”
Meredith and Joel Elliott’s goal is to provide low-cost space for start-ups. What makes them unusual is what they offer:
• $400 per month rent for a 1,000-square-foot room
• A six-month trial lease to see if the space works and the business is a good fit with other businesses
• Waived deposits for low-risk tenants
• Utilities included with rent (for a firm monthly cost).