A local couple have purchased a large downtown building from the family, who have owned it since the 1980s, with the intention of opening two fitness centers.
Mark Jr. and Shannon Mielnik purchased the WF Sellers building on 11th Avenue in July from Michael Kranich Sr., whose father bought it from the Sellers family, who built it in 1908 to house their jewelry business, according to the Mielniks, Kranich and locals historian Michael Farrow.
The Mielniks plan to set up Freedom House Fitness in an empty room on the first floor of the 12,000-square-foot, three-story building. and YBM Wellness Studio in a vacant space on the second floor, according to the couple.
Freedom House Fitness is primarily operated by Mark and offers this “elderly population” and offers facilities for self-paced training as well as individual training sessions and functional fitness classes.
The YBM Wellness Studio, led primarily by Shannon, will be more like a mirrored boutique, offering dance fitness classes, children’s arts and crafts and fitness classes, fitness and mobility workshops — and eventually wellness programs for store employees, Shannon said.
Both Mielniks are physical education teachers.
The couple understand the building’s two current tenants — Shear Power Hair Salon on the first floor and Susan L. Youshaw Photography on the third floor — will remain.
Michael Kranich bought the building after Sellers Jewelry went out of business downtown so he could get the jewelry boxes, which were framed in solid walnut and custom-made, Kranich said.
The Kranich family was and still is in the jewelry business — although at the time he wasn’t sure where to use the cases, Kranich said.
He eventually installed them at the family’s first mall, and some are still in the Kranichs’ current stores, which are located in Altoona, State College, and Johnstown.
real estate prices were “very depressed at the time” the purchase of the building, said Kranich.
He’s always kept rents low enough to ensure occupancy — a policy he’s proud of, he said.
“I did it as cheaply as I had to” he explained.
Tenants included a Hallmark store, a Ye Olde Hobby shop, a Monogram shop, and SLY Photography, according to Kranich’s son, Michael Jr.
There was also a shop that sold vintage items and a used clothing store, Kranich Sr said.
A division of New Pig occupied both the second and third floors for a time and used those facilities for their backup phones, Kranch Sr. said.
Downtown business has picked up in recent years, Kranich Sr. said.
This city seems to be gaining ground.”
He’s glad he sold it to the Mielniks who did it “a plan,” he said.
He is 81 and said “it’s not in me anymore” to make great development.
Despite this, he found that the building had been sold “a bit bittersweet”
The sale means the Kranichs have no downtown business presence for the first time in 99 years, he said.
His father Charles and Charles’ brother Sam founded the Altoona version of Kranich’s Jewelers in 1923, he said.
The store moved, mostly on 11th Avenue, and always rented, he said. It was once one of 25 jewelry stores in Altoona.
The entire business started in York 118 years ago, starting with Kranich Senior’s grandfather, Mayer David Kranich.
Mayer had eight sons, four or five of whom stayed in the business, and they had to move to find locations, Kranich Sr. said.
William F. Sellers began his jewelry business in 1896 in association with his father, a physician, after attending watchmaking school in Boston, according to Farrow newspaper clippings.
According to Farrow, William’s son Paul later joined the operation along with William’s twin grandchildren.
Wilhelm died in 1960.
According to Farrow, Sellers Jewelry initially occupied one of two ground floor store units.
The room included the crystal room at the back with a chandelier and a skylight where the most valuable items were kept.
The facade included two or three marble arches, two stories high.
In 1911 the other ground floor unit housed the Tivoli cinema for six months, Farrow said.
At one point, the now-defunct Altoona Business College was a third-floor tenant, Farrow said.
When the 1929 stock market crash happened, Sellers moved the jewelry store to the second floor, perhaps to make more money off the building by renting both ground-floor units, Farrow said.
“He was also very successful on the second floor,” an indication that he had “good clientele” ready to climb stairs to do business, Farrow said.
The store was taken into account “the noblest” in town, said Farrow.
The Kranichs were “amazing to work with” Mark MIelnik said.
The way things were going was “a god thing”, he said. The building is in good condition.
The Mielniks hope that with commercial and residential development downtown, there will be many customers for the fitness centers.
The couple also bought three townhouses in Altoona this year, Mark said.
“We always wanted to get into real estate development” he said. “For us it is the beginning.”
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler can be reached at 814-949-7038.