ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — A vision to turn a portion of a longtime Rockford business into a premier event space is being realized downtown.

Bennie’s Cleaners has been the unofficial epicenter of ArtScene for more than 25 years. Former owner Larry Sheets, who bought the dry-cleaning business from Bennie Callea in 1986, showed art in the lobby for many years and used the second floor for ArtScene.

When Bob and Savon Blosser took over from Sheets three years ago, they continued that tradition. They also quickly got to work to turn the sprawling upstairs into an art-related venue that can be used year-round. That space is now up and running. There’a a kitchen area for catering and plenty of room for multiple creators to show their work at the same time.

Bob Blosser says local artists need as many places as possible in addition to occasional gallery shows and two ArtScene events per year. He says without those chances, it’s difficult to make a living.

“It’s absolutely critical,” he said. “If they don’t have opportunities to show and showcase their work and to sell, they can’t survive as local artists. They have to have opportunities to do that.”

What’s happening at Bennie’s continues to catch the attention of other movers and shakes in the local art community. Rockford Area Arts Council Executive Director Mary McNamara Bernsten says not only is the space playing a key role to keep the local scene vibrant and commercially successful, it is helping to preserve art of all kinds for future generations.

“When you walk into Bennie’s Cleaners, you know it right away that he is an appreciator of artists, and he’s an advocate,” McNamara Bersten said. “Throughout time, throughout the centuries, artists actually reflect the culture that they live in. So, a lot of artists are creating the visual reflection for our time. And that’s a very important role.”

In addition to ArtScene, Bennie’s has opened the second floor for Stroll on State and private art shows.

Bennie’s featured 39 artists at Fall ArtScene. More are expected at the spring show as well as future events.

Bennie’s Cleaners is at 126 N. First St., downtown.