The northeast corner of Green and F streets in downtown Tehachapi has been an important part of the community for many years. The location of one of the town’s earliest grocery stores — first known as Bandhauer Market then Town & Country Market for many years — most recently housed the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store.
But the thrift store closed in 2017 after 25 years of operation, leaving the once busy corner adjacent to Tehachapi’s Centennial Plaza dark. Around that same time, Buddy and Nikki Cummings were busy with renovation of another iconic Tehachapi building — the old Tehachapi Lumber building at 228 Tehachapi Blvd. — to serve as headquarters for World Wind & Solar, which they owned at the time. Their renovation of the former hardware store, recognized as the city’s oldest commercial structure, won an Award of Merit from the California Association for Local Economic Development in 2020.
When the thrift store property and an adjacent parcel went on the market, the Cummingses decided to buy it, completing the purchase in September 2018.
From the beginning, the couple envisioned remodeling to repurpose the structure for multiple uses, Nikki Cummings said. The project’s name — The Village Collective — captured her vision for a place where people could come together for business or other activities.
By February 2020 the Tehachapi Planning Commission approved the architectural design and site plan for the project and renovation began.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and given the uncertainty, the Cummingses elected to temporarily pause construction. Lumber prices skyrocketed, businesses struggled to innovate and the project remained on hold. After much research and consideration, Cummings said, they resumed construction early this year.
Ultimately, the pause was good for the project, Cummings said.
“We ended up contracting with a new contractor, Tehachapi-based Aspen Builders, Inc. changing the layout, the design of the space, from what we originally were going to do,” she said. The first phase of the project ended up being to rework the building exteriors — through a combination of renovation and new construction — creating three suites facing Green Street that will eventually be leased, renovating the existing two-story building that will be developed into executive office suites and a cowering space and adding a new building facing F Street that will be called The Studio, and small event space, that will be available to be rented for classes, meetings and small events.
The old building was right around 10,000 square feet and with the addition, the project will end up at 13,325 square feet, she noted.
Phase II — development of the interior of that new space — began the first week of October.
A one-time driveway between the College Community Services building on F Street and the rear of 122 Green St. has been replaced by a two-story building that ties into an existing two-story area that was constructed when the building housed Town & Country Market. This space will house office space that will be available for long-term lease or rental by the hour, Cummings said.
The community event space might allow an instructor who does art, yoga or similar classes to rent that space by the hour, Cummings said. Spaces could also be rented for meetings, training sessions, or even small events.
“We’re really excited about what that is turning out to be,” she said. “In winter, especially, it will provide a good alternative space — more modern and upscale (than alternatives), think it will be a great addition to downtown.”
“The executive office suites and coworking space will be great for small business owners who need to meet with clients and want a great office experience without a lot of overhead,” Cummings said. The project will include 21 private offices, four conference rooms, two kitchens, lounge areas, a reception area and a media room (for recording podcasts or interviews). Coffee and wifi — plus short and long-term flat rate leases that include all utilities and janitorial services — will be offered, as well as daily rates.
Although rental rates have not been finalized, Cummings said they already have a list of interested tenants. She is hoping the office spaces might be ready by February 2022.
Green Street storefronts
Phase 3 will be the development of the interior of the storefronts facing Green Street. These could be developed into one business — or three smaller businesses — Cummings said. Each space averages about 1,500 square feet (5,024 total square feet).
Each space is stubbed for plumbing, electrical and sewage and one area has the electrical service and grease trap that would be required for a cafe or restaurant.
“We are looking for tenants, ideally with a track record of success, who want to expand to Tehachapi,” she said.
“We have an encroachment permit to allow outdoor pergola and dining space into plaza,” she added. “My vision is a bistro or cafe that wants to partner with the city for the farmers market or different events. Centennial Plaza is the heart of Tehachapi.”
Cummings noted that work on the interiors will begin once tenants are found and that she is actively working with restaurant operators in Bakersfield and some people in Tehachapi to find the right tenants.
“As soon as we start to identify a tenant or tenants, we will submit a plan to the city. We'll find the right tenants and we'll get it done.”
Among the challenges faced with the project was the fact that the wall facing F Street is graced by one of Tehachapi’s historic murals, this one recognizing the contributions made by Monolith Portland Cement Company (now Lehigh Hanson) over the years.
“I would have loved to have glass windows all along F Street,” Cummings said. “But Buddy and I always believe in being great partners with the city, so that was never anything we considered.”
Another mural, of the Tehachapi Loop, was crumbling and was removed before the couple bought the former Tehachapi Lumber building.
Cummings said she has worked with the Mural Committee and that some work was done to touch up places where the Monolith mural was fading and cracking. Eventually, she said, it will be necessary to place a door in the wall where the mural is located, to allow required building access, but it will be painted to match.
During 2020 the Cummingses moved to Florida, but they have retained a home and commercial property in the Tehachapi area, Cummings said.
Still, she said, they remain enthusiastic about Tehachapi and happy that they’ve been able to help continue bringing new life to the old downtown area.
“We believe in small town downtowns and are super excited for what this development will contribute to the area,” she added.
She has set up Facebook and Instagram pages for The Village Collective and people interested in the project can send her messages through those pages or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Claudia Elliott is a freelance journalist and former editor of the Tehachapi News. She lives in Tehachapi and can be reached by email: email@example.com.