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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Historic Fort Thomas “Ice House” Preserves Through Modern Architecture Improvements for Local Business

Invisible Fence Sells to Manufacturer After 36 Years in Fort Thomas

By Jessie Stringfield-Eden

When Jeff and Sharon DeRossette purchased the office at the corner of Brentwood Ave. and S. Fort Thomas Ave. for their Invisible Fence business, it was a fairly unassuming building with plain, dark, red brick walls, a flat roof and rectangular windows. The building itself is an interesting shape...but what is even more interesting is the story inside.

Once an old-fashioned Ice House estimated to be built in the 1920s-1930s, the office sits at 1220 S. Fort Thomas Ave. and well, quite literally, used to house giant chunks of ice. These giant pieces of ice were poured down a chute which led from the outside into the interior of the building. Fully insulated with nearly three layers of brick and cork, the ice was well preserved and slowly chipped away to be sold to customers. Over the years, the building has been renovated for various uses.

Prior to Invisible Fence, it was once a plumbing company, a realtor’s office, Valley Interiors, and Dr. Michael Grefer’s Physical Therapy office. By the time the DeRossettes bought the building in 2001, it only had two windows, awful drop ceilings and old drywall.

Fortunately, the DeRossettes had a fantastic architect — Terry Sefchick.

Sefchick’s talent for preserving the history of the building while also creating a functional, modern space can be seen in every inch of the remodeled structure. From uncovering the two-foot thick steel beams in the ceiling to exposing original brick and wooden accents to introducing new, metal accent lighting and creating a sleek, glass conference room...this office space unites the best aspects of historic and modern architecture.

The DeRossettes have lived in Fort Thomas since 1980. Their two children, Lauren and Zach, attended Highlands and Sharon even worked at St. Luke, now St. Elizabeth. For 36 years, they’ve operated their Invisible Fence business here. For 17 of those years, they’ve enjoyed the Ice House as their office.

It all began back in 1982 when the DeRossettes contacted the owner of Invisible Fence in Philadelphia to ask if they could start a branch in NKY. After expanding in 1987 with a small group of 11 people, the DeRossettes’ staked their claim on the entire Southeast US region for Invisible Fence.

“We liked to give back and I started to create the ‘man-in-a-van’ idea to help create independent business men,” said Jeff, “We’re very proud to put others in these positions.” The ‘man-in-a-van’ idea was designed to keep costs low for other areas where Invisible Fence had clients while providing the worker with everything they needed in the van to provide the requested service. It created a lot of opportunities. “A lot of capable people can work but they don’t have the money to start up their own business and this was a way for us to help them,” said Sharon.

After years of hard work, a manufacturer associated with Invisible Fence approached the DeRossettes with an offer to buy but Jeff wasn’t holding his breath. “I always tell Sharon ‘Don’t ever get married to a deal’...but then, everything worked out and we closed November 1st,” said Jeff, “We were both shocked. It was a difficult decision...we’ve been doing this 36 years but the timing was just right.”

Although it was a difficult decision, the DeRossettes will always have many memories and lasting relationships cultivated over many years and spanning many miles— the DeRossettes had another Invisible Fence office in Atlanta, GA. “I’ve been extremely fortunate. I’ve had workers with me for 32 years and 26 years. A lot of staff members have been with me a long time here and also in Atlanta.”

Jeff also shared fond memories of two mentors in the business who provided him with great advice and his dear friend Jim Engle Sr., a local dog trainer and former manager with Cincinnati Bell, who helped him manage people in the field and travel to other dealerships. He also gave a friendly shout out to his first customer; Dr. Michael Grefer.

The DeRossettes have truly had the best of both worlds; a front row seat to the success of Invisible Fence and involvement in a great community who supported and contributed to the company’s success. “The company started in Pennsylvania and now it’s an international company. We’ve watched it from the ground up and it’s been nice. Fort Thomas has been a great location for us too,” said Sharon, “We loved landing in this community. It’s been awesome!’

So, what’s next? Jeff and Sharon are already working on that. “We want to travel more. We’ve been to Europe and now we hope to go to New Zealand, Australia and maybe Africa,” said Sharon. Jeff, on the other hand, may still have some business ideas up his sleeve. “It’s been a great ride. We’ve enjoyed life. We’re going to take a deep breath, enjoy the holidays and take a trip...and then maybe look at some other business ventures.”

Grand reopening with over $1 million dollars in estate jewelry being brought in. 

As for the Ice House — the DeRossettes haven’t decided whether they will eventually rent out the space or sell the building...but either way, this beautiful, historic building has some amazing stories to tell.

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