Ron Maier has had his shoulder to the wheel in the South Wedge longer than most people I know and his wife, Norma, has been by his side all along. In 1969 when this neighbor- hood was blighted with 120 boarded and vacant houses between the tip of Mount Hope Avenue and Sanford Street, Ron and then-partner Ken Christensen founded Kenron Industrial Air Conditioning. Ron took
full ownership in 1971 and, through a deal with Jo-Mor theatre, took over the Fine Arts theatre at 700 South Ave. for Kenron Industrial Air Conditioning, Inc. office and shop in 1975.
During those years, Reverend Judy Lee Hay had started working with a parish council from Calvary St. Andrews parish, City Council, and Southeast Area Coalition. After RIT students finished an analysis of the area, a combination of state and Presbyterian funding helped get the ball rolling to turn this down- and-out Erie Canal neighborhood around. That’s when some smart thinkers came up with the name “South Wedge” and the slogan, “Building Blocks of Neighbors and Friends.” One of them was Ron who became the first chairman of a group working with the City, residents and business people—the South Wedge Planning Committee.
Ron and his wife Norma, son Shawn, and daughter Shana spent countless evenings and weekends renovating an old brick building
that he bought for a dollar. A dollar? What a bargain, right? Ron took on Gregory Place in 1980 (696 South and 287 Gregory) after a gas explosion and fire claimed a life and blew the roof off. Working with city planner David Luxemburg and MCRP (Master of City and Regional Planning) the Maiers and SWPC saved it from the wrecking ball.
Then the Maiers tackled an enormous do-over at the former Calvary St. Andrews Parish Hall on Averill Avenue in 1984 and managed to place it on the National Register of Historic Places—without its being in an historic district. That effort produced six apartments and earned the Mayor’s Rehabilitation Award.
In 1987 the Maiers bought the historic German House which had a pothole-filled parking lot that Ron said Evel Knievel wouldn’t have attempted to cross and an equally rough building. He said, “Picture the pint-sized Mrs. Maier on scaffolding painting the 25’ high metal ceiling by hand. She also personally restored the woodwork throughout the entire auditorium and ran the restaurant and theater side of the business for many years.”
At the celebration for the reopening of the German House Mayor Thomas Ryan said, “The refurbishment of the German House ensures that this beautiful structure will continue to play an important role in our community’s history.” The building and the history of The German House with its importance for the whole community brought Lucien Moran, then Monroe County Supervisor, to join with Ryan in the presentation of “Certification of Recognition.” Nowadays Butapub can enjoy this great location for their restaurant and auditorium as one of only a few privately owned auditorium / banquet facilities in the city.
As the Maier children grew up, Shawn and his wife Frances entered the family business while daughter Shana married a Brit, Stuart Taplin, and moved to London. However, when they visit twice a year, she, Stuart, and children Alison, Oliver, and Amelie often lend a hand at the family properties in the South Wedge. Under Shawn’s lead in 2008, the Maiers bought the Lauterbach Building at 750 South Ave. and converted an upper level that had been vacant for half a century into six apartments that always have a waiting list. Shawn and a friend stripped and restored the woodwork upstairs – numbering each piece of wood to return it to its original location. The former hardware store at street level was rehabbed and now houses Equal Grounds coffee shop. That renovation was not easy but with great effort by the Maiers and architect Randall Peacock, all code requirements were met and the 100+ years of building character carefully preserved.
Kenron moved to the property at 299 Gregory Street, the former Siddons Roofing headquarters, in 2010. Buying that building and creating an efficient office, shop and warehouse for Kenron also added much needed parking for the Wedge. The building hosts one of the few Geothermal Heating/ Cooling systems in the City.
By 2013, Ron and Norma had already redone the front façade of the Fine Arts Theater on South Avenue. The former Kenron offices at 700 South Ave. was re-purposed when Shawn designed new apartments which, along with Peacock’s input, became amazing rentals along with new commercial spaces in front. Each apartment has its own entrance on the side of the building where local artist Michael Moncibaiz painted his graphic “Wall Therapy.”
Family and friends were with Ron when he was honored with a Good Neighbor Award at one of the last Big Lunches at Calvary St. Andrews three years ago.
Nowadays, Shawn’s four young boys, Ronan, Eamon, Eoghan and Ian, help plant, water and weed and even paint the big candy canes at Christmas for the German House. They will be in and around the Wedge for years to come.
In the years I’ve known him, Ron has mellowed from a fastidious, Type A who could be seen on Saturday mornings weeding the flower beds or picking up trash in the parking lot next to Stanley Steemer, to—what? I’m guessing, someone who’s grateful to pass the baton on to others. When I asked if Norma has retired, he answered, “Norma certainly is not retired. She does the books – some rentals-repairs along with a lot of Grannie duties.”