Longtime roofing firm builds own roof over its head for new Southside HQ

Graham Aston, left, and son-in-law Jarrod Frakes outside the new Paul Saunders Roofing Co headquarters. (Photos by Jonathan Spiers)

When Graham Aston was handed the keys to the Art Deco building he had been looking for along Route 1 in Blackwell for some time, he was confronted with what the former auto parts store had hidden from the outside: a collapsing, leaking roof.

Fortunately, he had a roofing company.

Paul Saunders Roofing Co., to which Aston has led approximately half of its nearly 80-year existence, is completing the renovation of the former Glidewell Auto Parts building at 129 Richmond Highway, where it will be headquartered after three decades in a century moved. old warehouse at 1801 W. Marshall St.

The company sold that 23,000-square-foot Marshall Street building to Sauer Properties last fall, adding to the real estate company’s holdings near the Whole Foods-anchored Sauer Center development.

But Saunders’ move to its new home had been in the works since 2018, when it bought the three-building Blackwell property for $570,000 through Emsea Holdings LLC.

The deal included three other lots on the same block at the corner of Decatur Street, with a separate lot dividing the assembly. The city recently assessed the four lots collectively at $723,000.

Aston and Frakes in the front office. Frakes will take over the business from Aston, who also took over from his father-in-law, company founder Paul Saunders.

The following year, the company began restoration of the buildings, including the main structure it occupies as its office. Two smaller buildings on either side, 127 and 131 Richmond Highway, will be leased to other contractors or small office occupiers.

The 0.8-acre site at the newly renamed Stockton Street highway intersection dates back to the late 1930s and once housed a supermarket, Aston said.

He had noticed the buildings while working in the area and worked with Ben Bruni of Commonwealth Commercial on the purchase. Bruni also arranges the rental of the property.

Colliers’ Bill Mattox and James Morris Jr. of Morris Realty & Development LLC shared the offer, acting as representative of seller Giles Brothers Land Co. LLC.

Aston, whose English accent betrays his British roots, said the area along that stretch of Route 1 also appealed to him. While he said it has its challenges, he sees the neighborhood emerging with nearby developments on Cowardin and Semmes avenues to the north, and redevelopments of the former American Tobacco and Model Tobacco buildings to the south.

“This area is coming up so fast,” Aston said. “It feels like a good place to be at the right time.”

But since its last days as an auto parts store, the former Glidewell structure had fallen into disrepair, forcing the company and subcontractors to work two years to repair it. Bob McClendon of Chesterfield-based OGK Consulting was the project manager.

The main building as it looked three years ago. (Thanks to Graham Aston)

“The building hadn’t been maintained for a long time,” Aston said, “so the roof collapsed, the tin ceilings were rusted. It was full of car parts and the roof had been leaking for years. But the outside was good.”

Tin roof, rusted

After a complete roof replacement, the company installed new ceiling cans for the front office space of the building, which features the company’s lime green logo. Six or seven of the 30 employees will work in the space, which was designed by Walter Parks Architects along with the rest of the buildings.

A warehouse space behind the office includes a tin-ceilinged storage area, adding to outdoor storage areas that the company did not have in its previous location.

The rear warehouse space with new ceiling cans. (Photos by Jonathan Spiers)

Aston’s son-in-law, Jarrod Frakes, who will take over the business from Aston in about a year and a half, said they are in the process of moving their inventory with a view to opening their doors there in June.

“We hope to be all the way here within this month. There’s a lot to move about,” Frakes said. “We have been there for 30 years and we do a lot of historic roofing. There are a lot of slate and tile and specialty copper products that we have there, so moving them takes time.”

When Frakes takes over the company, it will carry on a sort of family tradition. Aston, who moved to the company from England in 1982, is himself the son-in-law of founder and namesake Paul Saunders, who died that year and was still active in the company. Saunders started the company in 1943.

Raising the roof

In agreement with Sadler & Whitehead LLC, Aston declined to disclose how much was spent renovating the buildings, which involved tax credits for historic preservation.

The roof replacement included the entire roof system, with new trusses to support new electrical, plumbing and mechanical configurations. New garage doors and windows were installed in the buildings and the metal canopy of the main building was restored and replaced. A coat of dark gray paint modernized the look of the building’s previously white facade.

The inside of the 127 building, which is intended for a contractor’s office.

The main building is nearly 9,000 square feet in total, while the 127 and 131 buildings are approximately 1,800 and 2,800 square feet, respectively. Aston said the smaller, self-contained building would be good for a contracting business, while the 131 building, which adjoins the larger building, could accommodate a variety of business types.

“We think it would be a small tech company or a small office,” he said of Building 131, which is closest to Stockton Street. He said they have received interest from several contractors for the buildings, which are still available.

“These buildings have much older charm,” Aston said. About the main building, he added, “I’m so glad we managed to preserve the structure as there aren’t too many examples of this period of American architecture that still exist.”

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