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Flowery Branch woman wants to replace century-old building
Holes in the ceiling let in sunlight, showcasing the neglect and disrepair the house has gone through. Karen Ching, who plans to use many elements of the house in a new building, said the structure has been vacant for around nine years. - photo by Carly Sharec

Karen Ching has a passion for restoring old buildings.

“I really do like doing it,” she said. “The candy store was actually a childhood dream. Redoing properties, I’ve always done that.”

The candy store is Liberty Candy Co., originally built in 1906, at 5518 Main St. in Flowery Branch.

“It was completely vacant, completely raw,” Ching said. “You could see holes in the roof.”

After extensive remodeling, she opened the candy store and also rents out the top portion as office space. It’s a source of pride, purchasing and restoring buildings to contribute to the look and economic viability of the community.

And it’s a challenge she’s embracing yet again, with the purchase of a house up the road from her store.
“It’s really dilapidated,” she said, gesturing to the building from the candy company storefront. “It’s been vacant for nine years.”

The house is where Flowery Branch’s Main Street turns into Mitchell Street, and next to a small yellow building Ching also restored.

It was built in 1895, she said, and was the home for multiple families through the years. She likely won’t be able to restore the structure, though, instead planning to build a new house, following closely the same style as what currently stands.

“It’s going to be really an homage to the person who built this property,” Ching said, though she didn’t know the man’s first name, just the last name Hunt. “He’s the one who put his hard labor into the house. I think that’s who we need to pay homage to. And it tracks back the history to the very beginning.

“We’ll recapture what we can,” she added. “And see if we can prolong his image a little bit longer for another 100 years.”

The building noticeably sags in the middle. From the side, the foundation is visibly supported by concrete blocks. Inside, it’s impossible to walk along some of the flooring, particularly upstairs, without fear of falling through.
It’s also infested with termites, Ching said.

She emphasized how much she would love to simply restore what’s in place, but also lists the logic behind her decision to start from scratch.

“I would love to keep the building,” she said. “It would cost me $2 million to keep this building. It would cost me half a million to put a new one up.

And she’s not entirely building everything from scratch, anyway. Ching is using as much as can be saved from the original building to use in the new, from the windows to doors, and portions of the floor and roof.

Director of Planning John McHenry said some of the Historic Preservation Commission’s members have toured the house and received information about the plans.

“In general, the extent of damage in the building would make one believe it’s necessary to take the building down to do development on that property,” McHenry said, adding no official vote has been taken by the commission.

“Our commission recognizes that it’s really critical to save beautiful buildings in our downtown,” he said. “They really create a sense of atmosphere and character that is really critical for economic development.”

But, he said, not every property can be saved due to damage.

McHenry said Ching has done “amazing work” in the downtown area, and that he thinks her plans will suit the downtown area.

“It makes me very comfortable that she’ll move forward with the new building that will be respectful of the historic downtown,” he said.