New London - When Diarmuid Hanafin looks into the gutted first floor of the John M. Shea building at 18-20 Bank St., where empty liquor bottles have been discarded in the recessed doorway, he sees potential.
"There's such great character to it,'' Hanafin said of the three-story building that his wife, Catherine Hanafin, bought Friday for $140,000. The couple hopes to turn the building into a small brewery.
"A lot of people say, 'You must be crazy,'" Hanafin said. "They see a dump. I see a beautiful building. I see it as an antique."
The long, narrow storefront, 18 feet wide and 65 feet deep, had been home to Caruso Music for 32 years before the music store moved to 94 State St.
"It's an interesting building,'' said John Van Ness of Caruso Music. "I hope they do something good with it."
After the music store moved out, the building was used occasionally for music production but mostly remained empty, Van Ness recalled. It was owned by 18-20 Bank Street LLC. The storefront windows often featured commemorative plates and other knickknacks.
Hanafin, owner of Hanafin's Public House about a quarter-mile away at the top of State Street, applied for a demolition permit on Monday, and on Tuesday was pulling down ceilings and throwing out birds' nests and "all the things that have been growing in there."
In the process, he uncovered pressed tin ceilings, brickwork and arched windows.
"We uncovered the windows, and the light from the riverside is phenomenal,'' he said. "The views are gorgeous. Looking out the back of these buildings is very much unappreciated in this town."
Hanafin said his wife had been interested in the building since last November.
Although they have not applied for special permits to meet local zoning regulations to open a brewery, the Hanafins hope to have the space looking presentable by OpSail and Sailfest this July.
Hanafin said he envisions a workspace to make beer that would be sold to brewery customers and at the pub on State Street. He said there may be tastings but he doesn't want a full-service bar or restaurant to compete with his other business.
The new establishment will be called Faire Harbour.
Hanafin will have to apply for a special permit that allows the manufacture and storage of beer and the sale of alcohol consumed on the premises, according to Michelle Johnson, zoning and wetlands enforcement officer.
Hanafin, noting that there's a lot of work ahead on the first floor, said he probably would spend around $240,000 to get the building in order. He's not sure what he'll do with the two upper floors.
Hanafin's Public House opened in 2005 in a former bank on State Street, and five years later moved into the space next door. In 2010, it was named best Irish pub in Connecticut by Irishbeerfinder.com.
Cottrell Brewing Co. in Pawcatuck, the only brewery in southeastern Connecticut, recently celebrated its 15th anniversary.