44: Loft Living

44: Loft Living

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Home Sweet Home

Loft Living

You never know what events are going to transpire to get you home.

~Og Mandino

When my husband, Mark, and I were newly married, we signed up for a chocolate tasting event held in the old International Market Square building in Minneapolis. As we noshed on chocolate confections, we saw a sign announcing loft space for sale in a separate section of the building. Giddy from a thorough sugar buzz, we decided to tour the model and see what downtown loft living was all about. When we got to the fifth-floor showroom, we were greeted by soaring ceilings, huge windows, original brick, and hardwood floors throughout. We were stunned. This was what loft living was all about? No wonder it was all the rage.

Whether it was from all the chocolate we’ll never know, but that night we felt like we could conquer anything — even downtown Minneapolis. Right then and there we decided we wanted to be loft owners and a couple of months later we moved into our new home.

Now, the International Market Square is an interesting place. Originally, the brick buildings were the home of Munsingwear: an undergarment and hosiery company that, incidentally, invented the logoed golf shirt. There are five buildings that comprise the International Market Square, all joined by a glass atrium in the center. Four of the five buildings house interior design studios, showrooms, and architectural offices, and the fifth building has been converted into multiple loft spaces with a penthouse on top.

After we moved in, Mark and I thoroughly enjoyed exploring every nook and cranny of our building. On snowy Minnesota days when it was too cold to go outside, we would walk laps around the five floors surrounding the atrium. We would stroll past each of the interior design studios and window shop for our dream lighting, rugs, furniture — everything! We even discovered that we could enter one door on the fifth floor after hours and take a sneak peek at the events going on below. We got to see bridal expos, speed-dating events, ballroom dances, and one night, a trapeze artist hanging from the glass ceiling over a fancy dinner party below. How they got her up there is still a mystery to me.

On one particularly warm summer evening, Mark and I planned to eat dinner on our balcony. We noticed a long line of people winding around the building and up the block. Curious, we put dinner on hold and headed to the fifth floor to overlook whatever event had garnered such a large crowd. We entered the atrium area and were surprised to find people everywhere! On every level they were pressed against the railings, some sitting with their legs hanging over the edge, intently watching someone below. We pushed our way to the railing and saw then-Senator Barrack Obama speaking. It was a noisy affair, and so crowded that we decided to make our way back to our loft and finish the dinner we had started. We took our salads onto the balcony and ate happily. After about fifteen minutes, we heard the large industrial doors beneath our balcony open, and a group of people emerged — the campaign team with Senator Obama in the center. He pumped his fists in the air and did a little victory dance, like you would see any football player do after making a touchdown, while high-fiving his team. To the side was his security detail, and they were giving Mark and me the “eye” as we sat chomping on lettuce and tomatoes directly above the proceedings. Imagine our surprise when later that year Obama was voted into office. We were able to say that the President had been to our house!

Though we were surrounded by enough happenings to give us stories for the next decade, the discoveries didn’t stop there. A couple months after we had moved in, my grandparents came over for dinner. When my Grandma Lois first arrived, she placed her hand on one of the butter-yellow cement pillars in the center of our living space and said, “These pillars used to be green.” We were amazed to discover she had worked for Munsingwear as the secretary of the men’s hosiery buyer in the very building we lived in!

Grandma told tales of the sewing machines that filled the floors; of the huge washrooms with metal lockers where the workers hung their coats; of the riot that had taken place; and how dreadfully hot the building had been.

“We used to take salt pills,” she said, “to replace all the salt we lost from sweating while we worked.”

I looked around, glad for all the modern conveniences our loft had, including central air conditioning. It was amazing to think that my grandma had worked in this building with no idea that one day her granddaughter would be living in it — walking on the same floors she walked on, touching the same brick walls she had touched. It boggled my mind. Mark and I had known our home possessed a lot of history, but now it had become personal.

I learned a lot from my grandma about her experiences at Munsingwear, and the history of the International Market Square has become a special connection for us. We love to share our stories and impressions of the building we have in common. Our tales are vastly different — hers set in the backdrop of the post-WWII era, and mine in the fast-paced 21st century — but each memory occurred in the same place… my home.

~Laura Smetak

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