Robert Israels has an unparalleled year

January 11, 2009
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In 12 months, the president and owner of Israels Designs for Living saved a storied local furniture store from closing, revived a storied retail location, renovated a pair of West Side buildings with storied pasts, and bought two nearby structures that will likely have stories of their own to tell.

The most recent chapter in Robert Israels’ story is being nominated as a finalist for Newsmaker of the Year.

“We’ve worked with Bob on lots of projects over the last 20 years and the thing that amazes me with Bob is that he appears to be tireless. He has so many things going on at once that I’m not sure how he does it. But at the end of the day, he figures out how to make things happen,” said Joe Erhardt, president of Erhardt Construction.

“For Bob, there is nothing that can’t be done. So that positive energy kind of rubs off on those of use who are fortunate enough to work with him. There is nothing that he won’t do,” said Ben Wickstrom, vice president of construction operations for Erhardt.

And Israels did a lot last year, all the while overseeing operations of his furniture design and retail businesses. Here are highlights:

**He finished a $17 million renovation of the Aslan Building at 600 Seventh St. NW, now a furniture showroom for Israels The Other Store, with residences on the two upper levels. American Seating Co. once made church pews in the building.

**He completed a $12 million renovation of 600 Fifth St. NW, once a manufacturing plant for John D. Widdicomb Furniture Co.

**He began a $2 million renovation of a building at 528 Fourth St. NW, after buying it from Enterprise Iron and Metal Co. and then finding a new location for the firm.

**He bought the building at 601 Third St. NW, the former home of Drueke Game Co., and plans to invest about $10 million in it.

**He purchased Klingman’s Furniture Co., a local seller of fine furniture for 85 years, and added some high-quality furniture lines to the store’s existing products.

**He bought the vacant Rogers Department Store at 1001 28th St. SW and spent almost $8 million on improvements to the 170,000-square-foot building for the new Klingman’s. He also plans to build “quality senior housing” and a small park on the site.

Klingman’s second story began in September when Israels opened the new store. He sees the location becoming a fine-furniture destination.

“I have these demographic studies that tell me the southwest end of Grand Rapids is going to be a big market for the lakeshore and for Chicago …,” Israels said last March, adding that 40 high-end furniture outlets closed in the Chicago market in the past few years.

“It’s a $100 million market and there is hardly anyone servicing it, and it’s just right around the corner from Grand Rapids.”

Other than Israels’ sons, David and Jason, Jane Hanenburg probably knows Israels’ story best. She has known him all her life, has worked with him for the past 27 years, and sees him as more than worthy of recognition.

“He is a positive man who has a zest for life. I look forward to come in to work with him every day,” said Hanenburg, Israels’ executive assistant. “He shares his knowledge of experience with everyone who works with him and that makes him a great teacher. He is the one to call to get a job done.”

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