You could say it was a match made in heaven. But which match? The bright young couple eager to make their mark in their adopted city? They were made for each other, right? Or is it the instant connection that Amber LeFever and Adam Soboleski forged with the building they call home, and that they’ve made (with a lot of sweat and effort) into the LeSo Gallery, East Toledo’s newest art hot spot? Why can’t it be both? And it started with an ordinary drive to work.
“In 2010, I was a first year art teacher in Toledo,” LeFever remembers. “I was commuting from BG to Toledo, and it was really my first insight into what Toledo was. It opened my eyes to all these old abandoned buildings.” Ideas began circulating in her mind as the miles passed. “I talked to Adam about it,” she says. “We actually had a conversation about whether we would buy a building or get married.” Sitting alongside her partner in their beautiful new space, she laughs. “You can see where we ended up with that!”
But it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing. The pair knew they wanted a gallery, and did the requisite hunting. They found the brick building on Starr Avenue and were immediately intrigued. They made an offer, and it was accepted. “We were so happy,” LeFever recalls. Finding the money was another matter. No area bank was willing to risk a commercial loan on a young couple with no real assets. “We were turned down 14 times,” she says. “They knew nothing about us.” Their offer expired. The owners got another offer. “But they were really hesitant,” LeFever says, “because they believed in us, which is amazing.” They decided to make a last-ditch effort. An eleventh hour call to Amber’s grandfather netted a loan for a downpayment, and the deal was done.
The work was just beginning, though. “There was green carpeting on the walls, cracked plaster, a drop ceiling,” LeFever says. Everything needed to be ripped out. “50 cubic yards of material,” Soboleski remembers. They took out walls, removed plaster, restored the gorgeous old-style tin ceiling, and felt the building’s history stir to life. “It was an insurance agency right before us. Before then, it was the very first headquarters of Marco’s Pizza. It was a few different bars, and it was the last stop on the trolley line in the thirties,” Amber says. “So it’s had a rich life, and I feel like we kind of brought it back from the dead. I honestly think we must have been blinded by love, because what we had to do was insane.” Adam’s job at Home Depot came in handy, since any skills he didn’t already have he could learn from his co-workers. And the LeSo Gallery emerged in beautiful shape (“presentable,” demurs LeFever, but she’s modest) just in time for its late-September opening.
It was a huge success, especially for an art event in much-derided East Toledo. Toledo’s artistic community came out in force — the couple estimates some 300 people passed through the doors, to the point where it was hard for new arrivals to see the artwork. If that’s the case, they missed out. The call for artists brought in work from Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus and beyond, in multiple media. And that was only the beginning. More shows will follow. LeFever, heartbroken over the underfunded state of public school art education, hopes to begin offering classes. And the two already feel deeply attached to their adopted neighborhood. “I feel like the East Side is ready for a renaissance,” LeFever says. And they’re ready to be a part of it. Their gallery isn’t just their great mutual project — it’s literally where they live, in the space upstairs. (“It gives us the opportunity, with our full-time jobs, to come down and work, and then maybe sleep a little,” laughs Soboleski.) But in a larger sense, it’s clear that they know they’ve come home.
LeSo Gallery, 1527 Starr Ave. www.lesogallery.com