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Downtown developer featured in magazine

Special to The Hays Daily News

PLAINVILLE -- The downtown renovations of Hays and Plainville have gained national attention for the efforts of Plainville native Chuck Comeau in the Winter 2013 issue of Preservation, the official publication of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded, nonprofit organization in Washington.

Preservation writer Gwendolyn Purdom visited the towns in August.

"Entrepreneur Chuck Comeau relocated his international luxury furnishings company to the rural Kansas town where he grew up and learned preservation isn't just a way to celebrate community -- it's good for business, too," she wrote.

Eight pages are dedicated to the story titled "There's No Place Like Home." It relays Comeau's personal ties and passion for both Hays and Plainville. According to Purdom, historic renovation wasn't originally part of the plan. Comeau simply was looking for space to relocate the business and customer service side of his then-young company, Dessin Fournir.

"We started thinking, look at all these empty buildings. If nothing else what we can do is utilize them so it shows that there's life in downtown. And what came out of it was that these buildings each have an interesting charm and they do create a really wonderful, creative environment," Comeau said.

As Dessin Fournir's success grew to eventually include seven lines and five more buildings, Comeau began thinking the same approach might help downtown Hays. Since opening C.S. Post & Co., a retail gift shop in downtown Hays in 1997 with his wife Shirley, Comeau and his development firm, Liberty Group, have completed 13 renovations in downtown Hays.

"It's interesting when you follow the building and the way it works best," Comeau said. "The building is what talks to you and tells you how to move forward."

Comeau calls his architectural aesthetic "modern industrial with an agricultural influence."

Purdom wrote it's more than preservation of architecture. It's about the preservation of the way of life Comeau remembered from his childhood. Downtown was a place of community where people came to meet. Purdom proposes the biggest draw to downtown Hays is the eclectic restaurant and award winning brewery Gella's Diner & Lb. Brewing Co. What was once a forgotten space hidden behind sheets of aluminum now is packed with locals and visitors.

Comeau's revivalist spirit can be found not only through architectural design but also within his home furnishing manufacturing processes, producing furniture, lighting and textiles using centuries-old techniques. Upon acquiring the venerable New York textile firm, Rose Cumming, in 2005, he discovered boxes and boxes of forgotten archives from one of the interior design industry's founding grand dames, Rose Cumming. Comeau decided to record Cumming's story, which led to the publication of "Rose Cumming Design Inspiration" in September by Rizzoli International and named one of the Best Books for 2012 by New York Times Magazine.

Looking forward, the article details Comeau's plans for boutique hotels in both towns connected to the community through landscaped pedestrian-friendly walkways and commons areas.

"If it weren't for the historic aspect, this would be like another strip mall," Comeau said. "You can't recreate this off the bypass and just stick a couple of trees there. There has to be a story behind it, and downtown has the story."

To read the article, visit www.preservationnation.org/magazine/2013/winter/theres-no-place-like-home.html.