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Businesses open up in former city electric building

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By John Barnhart

The old Electric Department Building on Depot Street, in Bedford, has gone to the dogs.

At least part of it has, but that's good. Paw Wash, a dog grooming business is one of the new businesses that have opened in the former city electric building.

Jenne Chelloram served her first furry customers on Dec. 11.

Paw Wash is equipped with state of the art pet grooming equipment and has its own dedicated parking next to the building. It even has provisions for meeting doggie toilet needs.

Chelloram said that it normally takes about three hours to groom a dog, although this varies depending on the breed and what the customer wants. The cost of grooming varies for the same reason. The cost of a basic haircut starts at $15 and goes up to between $30 and $35 for some breeds.

She also offers canine teeth cleaning. Having a dog's teeth cleaned protects the animal from gum disease. Gum disease will cause tooth loss.

How often a dog's teeth should be cleaned depends on what the animal eats. Chelloram said that a dog that eats dry dog food should have his teeth cleaned weekly. It should be done more often if the dog eats wet food.

Chelloram said that dogs like the toothpaste she uses. It comes in chicken or beef flavor and she lets them smell it first before she goes to work. The cleaning is followed by breath spray.

In order to get ready for this line of business, Chelloram took courses in dog grooming and then worked for Pet Smart, going through their certification program. She said that once you learn the basics, you can groom any dog.

She also has a doggie barber book. This provides a reference book for her in case somebody brings in an unusual breed. It also allows her to show customers what a requested pattern actually looks like. There are multiple poodle patterns, for instance.

"I'm an artist at heart, so it's fun to do patterns," Chelloram said.

She also loves dogs.

The dog business represents a change in career plans for her. She was originally a student at North Carolina State studying computer science and computer engineering. She decided, however, that she would be a lot happier working with dogs.

Safety for her canine clients is important. This involves watching the animals for signs of stress. It also means knowing the various breeds.

"You cannot muzzle dogs with collapsing tracheas," she said.

Chelloram said that this is a characteristic some breeds have. Another factor is that some breeds can be dried with heat and others can't. If she's dealing with a mixed breed, she errs on the side of caution.

Paw Wash features heated cages and state of the art equipment. Chelloram attends trade shows to keep up on the latest stuff.

For more information about Paw Wash, call 587-9090.

There is a another dog related business in the building, next door to Paw Wash. Pawcasso, owned by Jessica Gillum. Gillum is Chelloram's sister. This is a boutique with dog-related products, including outfits and pet jewelry, collars and doggie perfume. The shop also has dog dishes and dog-themed ornaments. It's in what used to be an electric department garage, and the garage door is still in place. The space is due to be renovated this summer, according to Patti Siehien, who owns the building.

Gillum, like her sister, is fond of dogs and is involved with the Humane Society and dog rescue.

Pawcasso is open every day from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., except for Sundays and Mondays.

Entrepreneurs catering to the furry folks make up only part of what's going on in the old building. Another new business, the Artisan Cafe, opened Monday.

There is art on the wall, even the kitchen has art, and one wall is dedicated to Bedford's electric department. The cafe's interior sign even uses metal letters that came from the building's old exterior sign.

"I think it has a cool ambiance," commented Siehien.

The cafe will have locally-made pastries and homemade side dishes and soups. Siehien said that her brother, Michael Siehien, who owns the Bedford Social Club, has been her adviser on this business.

Some of the guys from the electric department came by, before the cafe opened, to check out the changes. Siehien said that they noted the changes she made to what had been a rather historic-looking bathroom.

"You painted it orange!" one of them remarked.

Siehien said that she plans to have a reception in the cafe for electric department employees. This, she noted, is where they worked for years.

For more information about the Artisan Caf?call 587-8878.

Siehien took possession of the old electric department building in October and her plans for the old building includes eight artist spaces where people can come and watch the artist at work. She's in the process of converting what used to be an electric department storage space into this artists' workshop and has two artists already committed to moving in. Called Art on Depo, this gallery is expected to open later this month.

The construction is being carried out by Siehien's partner, Al DeWeese. DeWeese had a home improvement business in Northern Virginia, but came to Bedford to get away from the rat race up there.

A final project will be to attract a 120-seat restaurant into the building's basement. DeWeese plans to meet with investors for this project this month.

Siehien said that there will be parking space for tour buses and she also believes that it will be a point on a walking tour of Bedford. There will be a provision for outdoor dining, and an outdoor movie in the summer, and she looks for it to draw people into downtown Bedford on Friday and Saturday nights.

"It wouldn't be a place, it would be a destination," said DeWeese.

"So the people will make the left turn if they are coming from Lynchburg or the right turn if they are coming from Roanoke," he added.

Parking will be available. Siehien said that 20 parking spaces came with the building when she bought it. She believes that more will be available at night.

Because of the lay of the land where the old building was built, it actually has two ground levels. Thus, the basement has doors, including a set of garage doors opening directly to the outside. More than a century ago, this basement housed the city's electric generators and Siehien expects the restaurant to have an electricity theme. Electric gear still in place will remain. This includes the conduits that penetrate the wall and once carried electricity to Bedford's street lights in the waning years of the 19th century.

The Bedford Electric Light Company got its start in the 1890s with a pair of 30-horsepower steam-driven generators. These were later replaced with a 80-horsepower generator, also driven by steam. These were replaced, in the early 20th century, with two hydroelectric generators on the James River, built to meet the city's rising demand for electricity. Its current 5 megawatt hydroelectric station on the James was built in the early '80s.