All Makes Office Equipment has seen lots of change in a century of operation.
From exclusively selling and servicing Royal typewriters to managing a slew of modern office makeovers, some overseas.
From peddling huge calculators that did little more than add and subtract to selling cloud-based machines that print, copy and scan in a flash.
From operating out of a single storefront (whose 1918 Farnam address reflects the year the company was born) to multiple office sites, in Lincoln, Kearney and Des Moines.
But up there among impressive shifts, said owners Jeff Kavich and Amee Zetzman, is what’s happening today outside their company headquarters near 25th and Farnam Streets.
Once known as “automotive row,” the stretch of Farnam Street between downtown and midtown during the first half of the 20th century bustled with such dealerships as Studebaker, Cadillac, Oldsmobile and Peerless, along with related car service and shops. The strip later denigrated into a magnet for prostitution and drug dealing, but it has started to surge again with new development.
Across the street from All Makes, for instance, the historic Hupmobile Building, which could hold about 125 cars on its three floors, has been restored to offices and retail space. A Holiday Inn Express is under construction.
For the first time, Amee Zetzman said, she can walk around the corner to grab a fancy java drink (at the new Zen Coffee in the 25 Farnam retail strip).
“I knew a shift had happened when one day I looked outside my office and there was a lady walking with a coffee cup in her hand and a yoga mat under her arm,” Zetzman said. “That, to me, was: Wow, this is happening.”
Running the granddaddy business on the block, Zetzman and her brother, who are fourth-generation All Makes owners, have had a view of a changing corridor that connects downtown to midtown growth spots including Midtown Crossing and the University of Nebraska Medical Center campus.
The company was started 100 years ago on the Farnam corridor by Harry Ferer, who brought in son-in-law Lazier Kavich, who then tapped son Larry Kavich, who eventually turned over the reins to children Jeff and Amee, now 48 and 51, respectively.
The siblings grew up with the business and said that through ups and downs, their family never considered exiting the neighborhood, as have some other businesses through the years.
“This building was so unique, and we weren’t going to be run out,” Jeff Kavich said of the iconic headquarters that once showcased Studebakers and REO coupes and still has the freight elevators inside to prove it.
Instead, All Makes has modernized its local showrooms and bought up surrounding property to protect and control its turf.
Today, the company owns a half dozen lots along with four buildings and warehouses along Farnam that contain about 190,000 square feet.
Amassing that much property in a reviving area of town has its down side. Property taxes on many of the pieces have doubled or tripled since 2015. Take 2558 Farnam St., which was built around 1913 for the Studebaker Automobile Co. Its assessed value went from $595,000 to more than $1.2 million.
In the same three years, a related parking lot went from $9,000 to $76,000.
Zetzman recently argued against the steep hike ultimately upheld by county policymakers. She told officials the company has not converted property to trendy condos or different revenue-producing uses, and was continuing its core mission. The company designs client work spaces, negotiates prices with manufacturers, then orders and manages installation of office furniture. It also sells office pieces from its showrooms.
“We want to be part of the forward movement,” Zetzman said. “It comes with a cost.”
So far, Kavich said, renewed attention to the urban core hasn’t resulted in noticeable foot traffic at the Farnam Street showroom. That’s OK, Kavich said, as the company is accustomed to being a destination.
Still, he and Zetzman look forward to a day when pedestrian traffic picks up on the corridor .
Meanwhile, in the last two years All Makes has increased its companywide workforce about 10 percent to 90 people, Kavich and Zetzman said. It added the Kearney location four years ago, recently moved the Des Moines office to a more visible spot, and saw overall revenue increase 40 percent in fiscal year 2017 over the year before.
Kavich said the proposed street car that supporters want to run along Farnam would be “a dream come true.” He said he’s hopeful the neighborhood will become more than a drive-by zone, but plans nonetheless to remain rooted there. “We’re not going anywhere,” he said.