Embracing The Momentum
Photos | Emma Highfill, Rose Wheat Photography
Ace Plumbing, Heating, Air Conditioning and Appliance Repair has called North Topeka home since 1971. Owner Dave Cobler’s father bought 901 North Kansas to serve as a location to store supplies for his growing business. By the time the NOTO Arts & Entertainment District moved in, Cobler had purchased several other addresses on North Kansas including 900, 904, 906, 908 and 910 North Kansas. Some of the properties purchased became parking, new offices and buildings to meet the needs of the business. Other properties were purchased because the old buildings were vacant and in disrepair, and Cobler wanted to save them rather than see them torn down.
“When I bought the 900 North Kansas building, it had been boarded up. It had been Kaw Valley Animal Clinic,” Cobler said. “The second and third floor were the Knights of Columbus until the 1960s. The third floor was their dance floor for wedding receptions, and they had never changed it.”
During the decades of growth for Ace Plumbing, the retail and restaurant business in North Topeka dwindled. Even in 1971, when Ace Plumbing moved into its current location, North Topeka had already seen its heyday.
“I could tell you what all the stores used to be. There was still Ed Marling’s Store, a soda fountain, a Rexall Drugstore, a 5 and 10 store, barber shops and taverns,” Cobler said.
The changing nature of the area did not affect the bottom line of the plumbing business. While they have a walk-in retail store, they do not rely on walk-in traffic for customers. Most of their business is in service and repair work.
“It was a good location in the fact that I-70 is across the river. We can get north, east, and west quickly,” Cobler said.
When talk first started to refurbish the Overland Station, Cobler was encouraged. Then NOTO Arts & Entertainment District arrived. At first, he was a little concerned about the added traffic, because of the need for his service vehicles to drive out on calls.
“I thought, I hope they don’t forget that we’ve been here for 40 years,” Cobler said.
Despite his concerns, Cobler embraced the movement and worked to make the district a success. On First Fridays, the company makes sure its trucks are put away and personal vehicles are off of the avenue by 6 p.m. to provide space for visitors to the district. Cobler was also one of the first building owners to allow vendors a corner space to participate in First Friday events.
Cobler does not have a way of measuring how much positive impact NOTO has on Ace Plumbing, but he does recognize that they have picked up name recognition by having their trucks and buildings in the middle of the action.
He is glad to see a lot of the buildings that were vacant getting new investment with improved interiors and exteriors, and hopes there will be enough business soon for stores to be open more days a week.
“It’s making our area not only nicer in appearance, but an area where people want to come to North Topeka again. I’m for North Topeka,” Cobler said.