Mary Ginocchio recently bought an old commercial building across North Limestone from her house and home furnishings boutique. After a major renovation, she hopes to lease the first floor to restaurants and rent out the two apartments above.
But this project is much more than a real estate investment. It is restoring a key piece of her family’s history.
Ginocchio bought the building for $300,000 in May from Charles Whittington, whose family had owned it since 1986. Whittington operated a used bookstore there for years and lived above the shop.
Ginocchio hopes to spend no more than that on the renovation, which is being led by contractors Dudley Burke and Mica Puscas; Puscas is also finding new homes for tens of thousands of books that were left behind.
“There’s work to be done everywhere,” she said. “But they’ve gotten so much done in just a month. I’m conservative with my money, but I’m getting over it quick.”
Ginocchio will have an open house from 1 to 4 p.m. July 26 to show off the renovation in progress. The contractors are trying to save as much historic fabric as possible — from pine floors and woodwork to the tin ceiling on the main floor.
The building dates to 1887, when the first section was constructed for Ginocchio’s great- grandfather, Hannibal Buchignani. His meat market had outgrown its previous location on South Broadway. (A large 1880s photo of that shop hangs in Spalding’s Bakery on Winchester Road.)
Buchignani came to the United States from Italy as a child. When he grew up, he decided to move to California. On his way there, he stopped to see a friend in Lexington who persuaded him that this would be a good place to start a business and raise a family.
Buchignani’s grocery prospered. In 1894, he built an addition, part of which housed a bicycle shop. He was one of Lexington’s first bicycle enthusiasts, and Ginocchio said he asked several manufacturers to make a triple bicycle for his sons, Hugo, Leo and John.
“They wouldn’t do it, so he built it himself,” she said. “We still have the frame in the basement.”
Buchignani never lost his childhood desire to live in California. So, in 1905, the family sold its furniture (but kept its Lexington real estate) and moved to San Francisco. They arrived six months before the famous 1906 earthquake devastated the city and left them living in a tent in a park.
According to family lore, one of Buchignani’s sons asked: “Papa, what are we going to do?”
“We’re going to take the first train back to Lexington,” he replied.
Three years after reopening his market, Buchignani bought the mansion across the street when it went up for auction. It was built about 1818 as the home of Matthew Kennedy, Kentucky’s first professional architect.
Ginocchio now lives in the back of the Matthew Kennedy House. She uses the front rooms for her Mulberry & Lime home furnishings shop. The mansion also houses the office of interior designer Anna Marie Lewis, who is helping with the renovation.
Next door is a modest house built in 1813 by Kennedy and his business partner, John Brand. It was moved down Constitution Street years ago to prevent its demolition, and it is now the home of her father, retired architect Martin Ginocchio.
When he was young, his father, Louis Ginocchio, ran The Tavern on South Limestone, where Two Keys Tavern is now. His grandfather died 16 years before he was born in 1931, but Ginocchio recalls many visits to the meat market run by his uncles, John and Hugo, a short trolley ride up Limestone.
“I remember this structure from way back, the smells and everything,” he said. “All the produce was in large, tall baskets. There were cookies in big cans with glass tops. There was a refrigerated room where my uncles would hang whole sides of beef to age.”
At Christmas, the uncles had special Italian candy to give him when he visited.
The Buchignanis’ market shared its building with other businesses over the years, including an ice cream shop, a confectioner, a shoemaker and an electrician. The meat market closed in the 1960s, and the building was sold out of the family.
Buying and renovating the meat market has prompted the Ginocchios to look for old photographs and talk more about their family history, memories and relics. A glass-topped cookie can and tall basket have been around the house forever, but Mary Ginocchio didn’t realize where they came from.
“I didn’t think I would be that attached to the building,” she said. “But I am now.”
If you go
Buchignani Meat Market sneak preview
What: See renovation in progress
When: 1-4 p.m. Sunday, July 26
Where: 215-219 N. Limestone
Cost: Free, but donations accepted for the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation
More information: (859) 231-0800 or Mulberryandlime.com