New Brunswick

Couple bet on Saint John's Union Street for new loft-style home

There were no half measures when Beth and Allen Blois decided to trade their country life in Upper Golden Grove for Saint John's uptown.

Century-old building offers tall ceilings, exposed brick and rooftop patio

Renovations are well-over budget, but Beth and Allen Blois are glad they took a chance on this century-old Union Street building in Saint John. (CBC)

There were no half measures when Beth and Allen Blois decided to trade their country life in Upper Golden Grove for Saint John's uptown.

The middle-aged couple couldn't see any other buildings from their rural home. Now the only outdoor space they can find is on the public sidewalks on Union and Dorchester streets.

"What started it was the kids decided to grow up," Beth Blois said.

"We love uptown anyway, so I said, 'let's start looking.'"

The duo said they were searching for something that could be turned into a loft-style building for an affordable price.

Union Street, just one block away from the more fashionable Trinity Royal area, offered that.

"There's very few buildings around uptown Saint John that are available at our price point that would do that," said Allen Blois.

A former beauty parlour storefront on one side has been converted into a single car garage. A long vacant shop next to it will remain a commercial property with a roomy two-bedroom home on two floors above with an additional loft.

While the Blois's have no regrets, the renovations have offered up some expensive surprises.

Removing asbestos in the building's interior plaster cost four times what they'd budgeted.

Allen Blois says passersby often stop to thank him for renovating the long-neglected building. (Roger Cosman, CBC)

And more than 1,500 crumbling interior bricks on their newly exposed walls had to be replaced. 

Allen Blois said the street outside is busy, but that's turned out to be what makes it attractive.

"It's fun, there's lots going on," he said. "People are extremely friendly around here. You'd be surprised at how many people stop by to say, 'Thank you for doing the work that you're doing here.'"

Fifty years ago, Union Street was a destination shopping district with some stunning architecture.

In the decades that followed, much of the shopping moved to the malls, and several historic buildings were knocked down to make way for parking lots.

But Beth and Allen Blois are betting this street, steps from uptown office towers, the City Market, and a host of new restaurants and bars, is ready for its comeback.

They pointed to the "awesome" former fire hall across Union Street, which they said would be ideal for more loft apartments.

And just across Dorchester, Glen Jardine of First City Pub said he's been inspired by the improvements being made.

Jardine said he's now going to enlist an architect to go "higher end" with renovations to the Pub and Brewery.

"I was just going to paint my building," he said. "Now I'm going to do exterior work. I'm going to do mine to match his, basically. So that's my plan now."