- Associated Press - Saturday, October 29, 2016

JOLIET, Ill. (AP) - Drivers coming into downtown Joliet off the Ruby Street bridge may be doing a double take as they pass an old two-story building that has been deteriorating for years.

The building at 601 N. Chicago St. has been repainted, refurbished and remodeled.

“We’ve been doing this since 2007 when we bought it,” Val Vrinceanu said. “Because I did it by myself, it took some time.”

Not finished yet, Vrinceanu still has made a big impression with the showroom he built for his cabinet business, Complex Woodwork, on the first floor and the residence he created on the second floor for his family.

Val and his wife, Anna Vrinceanu, won one of the 13 Neighborhood Hero awards that the civic organization Project Acclaim issued this year to Joliet residents who have done something special with their property to give it a certain eye-catching curb appeal.

Anyone who has taken a second look at the building said it merited the award.

“To me the biggest criteria is, did you do a double take?” Project Acclaim secretary John Zalanka said. “Were you compelled to take a second look as you drove by? Was there something that caught your eye?”

If what Vrinceanu has done with the building on the outside deserved a second look, however, going inside made an even bigger impression on the judging team from Project Acclaim that inspected the building.

“You should have seen the expressions on the faces of our judging team,” Zalanka said. “Their jaws hit the floor.”

The floor is nice, too.

Vrinceanu has added wood floors on both stories to cover the concrete of the old industrial building once used for a bakery and then a warehouse. It has been vacant for about 20 years and even had a fire that left a hole in the second floor.

“I was amazed at what you could do with an old, burnt-out building,” said Councilwoman Jan Quillman, one of the judges with Project Acclaim. “This man had a vision. It was like something out of a magazine.”

Quillman said she was particularly impressed with the living quarters, the kitchen cabinetry that Vrinceanu built himself and the detail of the work.

“This was all empty,” Vrinceanu said while sitting in one of the cushioned wooden chairs in the showroom where he has mounted counter tops and cabinet hardware on the wall like artwork.

He has cut large windows, which bring light into the showroom, out of the formerly stark walls that front Chicago Street.

Vrinceanu is modest about his work.

“Even now, it’s not completely done,” he said almost apologetically. “We still have doors missing (upstairs). We have baseboards missing (upstairs). We wanted to open the store first.”

Enough is unfinished that Vrinceanu at first resisted the idea of having the building nominated for the Neighborhood Hero awards.

But Jan Nahorski, who nominated Vrinceanu, said he thought it was time for the building to get some recognition.

Nahorski said he had been out to the building in past years several times for his job as graffiti abatement officer for the city.

“That building was for years and years and years an old warehouse, factory, various things - dilapidated, windows broken out. It was not appealing,” Nahorski said. “One time I got a call there was graffiti on it. I went out there, and there was a guy working on it. He started telling me his story, his dream.”

“He had it all broken down,” Nahorski said. “I thought, ‘This guy is crazy.’ … I was not anticipating him doing the rehab to the level he did. I kept an eye on it, and this guy was always out there.”

One day, Vrinceanu invited Nahorski inside.

“I was even more impressed,” Nahorski said. “I said, ‘Val, you’re an absolute talent. This is beautiful.’”

Vrinceanu, a Romanian immigrant, lived in Chicago before moving his family into the building in 2012. Asked what brought him to Joliet, he immediately answered, “Low taxes.”

He was looking for a building in which to start a cabinet sales business. He had formerly worked in construction, mostly on the North Side of Chicago and in the northern suburbs. The building in Joliet was available at a reasonable price.

He just opened the showroom for Complex Woodwork on Oct. 3. Vrinceanu is hoping the showroom will help him develop more business.

Other plans for the building include creating a second-floor patio that would give a view of the Des Plaines River and downtown. He is planning a library that will double as a guest room. And, eventually he will do more with the basement, where Vrinceanu already has created a garage by building a sloping driveway to the garage door that he cut out of the foundation.

“You have to have a will to do this, a big will,” Vrinceanu said. “A lot of people said for the area you are making it too nice. But I cannot go halfway. I do things the way they should be done, or I don’t do them at all.”

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Source: The (Joliet) Herald-News, https://bit.ly/2dR3Ah3

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Information from: The Herald-News, https://www.theherald-news.com/

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