The newly-renovated interior of Studio 92.
Robert F. Smith/The Commons
The newly-renovated interior of Studio 92.

‘We are trying to do this right’

Erica Daniels and Tim Wells put the finishing touches on two formerly vacant storefronts, recounting some extensive — and expensive — construction surprises

Erica Daniels and Tim Wells have almost completed renovations and upgrades on two historic buildings on Rockingham Street after a challenging and expensive - but ultimately rewarding - year.

The Shona Grill building at 92 Rockingham St. is now Studio 92 Hair Salon and Fine Art. Daniels, formerly a successful hair salon owner in Boston, has now fully relocated to the new space. Wells, an artist, is finishing up his studio in the building's loft area.

The art deco building at 94 Rockingham St. - once The Real Scoop ice cream shop - has been completely renovated and is ready to be rented.

Daniels and Wells said they are receptive to any number of potential uses, noting that "it could be any business, except not a restaurant, but it could be an ice cream shop again, or a bakery, or something we haven't thought of yet. We're open to ideas."

The buildings, an important part of downtown Bellows Falls since the 1930s, also sit next to the iconic Miss Bellows Falls Diner, which was purchased by the nonprofit Rockingham for Progress Inc. and is also slated for a total renovation over the next year.

Originally, 92 Rockingham St. was an automotive repair garage and 94 Rockingham St. was a gas station. Over the years, the buildings were remodeled and used as a Chinese restaurant, ice cream parlor, martial arts studio, hot dog and bratwurst restaurant, and as an American food bistro. At times, the two buildings have been empty or used for storage.

Keeping the art deco design of the 94 Rockingham St. building as original as possible was one particular goal of the renovation, said Daniels and Wells, who also saved its unique black-and-white tile floor.

As is often the case with such projects, Daniels and Wells had already started on the renovations and bringing the buildings up to code when they found that the project would be more extensive - and more expensive - than they had originally thought.

They bought the buildings thinking that the membrane on the flat roof of the 94 Rockingham St. building was fairly new, only to find that it had to be replaced. During that process, it became clear that the roof structure itself needed work.

In the end, both buildings had new roofs installed, along with new wiring, plumbing, and fully accessible bathrooms.

Very soon into the renovation process, interior demolition revealed a total lack of insulation in both buildings, and in some places a lack of exterior sheathing.

The exterior walls of both buildings were insulated, and drywall hung, finished, and painted. The 92 Rockingham St. building has new floors, walls, and trim.

"We are trying to do this right," Wells said. "We're really trying to care about this project."

Adding to the stress of the project was the fact that through most of the year, the couple still lived in Boston, where they owned two homes and a business, and they were commuting to Bellows Falls for several days each week while trying to get a new home built in Walpole, New Hampshire.

The home building project started behind schedule, and the couple found themselves sleeping in a barn without heat or water for four months while juggling all the projects.

Selling their homes and the business in Boston helped to cover some of the unexpected expenses of the project, which Daniels said "were a lot more than we'd figured. Definitely above our limit. You have to know that can happen going in, but it was more than we had planned for."

In an interview a year ago, Daniels had commented on why they chose to move to the Bellows Falls region.

"I know this is a really special town," she said then. "We want to be part of the growth, the story of the town."

A year later, Daniels said that their love for the town really helped them through a rough year.

"We've made friends here," she said. "They would come through and look at things, and their enthusiasm for the project meant everything to us. The love of the town was our anchor through everything."

As they look at a potential renter for the 94 building, Wells said that they "want a business that will add some flavor and character to the town."

"We feel like the town is gaining traction all the time," Daniels added. "That it's up and coming. It's happening in this town."

The couple had an open house at the salon on Feb. 2. With two chairs, Daniels said she plans on working alone, and she is taking appointments.

"After working in a busy salon for many years," she said, "I want this to be a calm, relaxed experience. I have 13 years in the industry specializing in cuts and colors. I've really honed my craft."

After her first four days in business, Daniels said she's been averaging five clients a day. A good start, she said, for an area where she has yet to establish a client base.

Daniels noted that over the past year they had experienced several of life's major stressors all at once -buying property and starting a new business, changing jobs, selling property and moving, facing financial challenges, and overseeing major construction projects.

It's the sort of thing that can put a heavy strain on any relationship, she said, then added "we actually got engaged this year."

"Tim said all the time, 'We're fighting for the dream,'" Daniels said. "It became our mantra. It's brought us closer together."

Daniels can be reached for appointments and bookings through, where photos document some of the renovation journey of the two buildings.

This News item by Robert F. Smith was written for The Commons.

Subscribe to the newsletter for weekly updates