Run of the Mill
Old mills have second lives as crowd-pleasing event spaces
Greylock WORKS has established itself as a location where events are held—from weddings to holiday markets to entrepreneurial events to a wide variety of other functions.
Photo: The Rasers Photography
Onyx Papers, which occupies Meads Mill in Lee, is looking toward its tenth anniversary at that location in December. Co-owner Patricia C. Begrowicz says that business couldn’t be better. The company has increased its employee headcount since purchasing MeadWestvaco in 2009, as well as its revenue and customer base. That’s a victory for the company and for the mill itself, which has always been used for paper manufacturing. “The fact that we didn’t have to find an alternative use for this mill but are using it for what its intended purpose was when it first started 220 years ago is pretty cool,” says Begrowicz.
The town of Lee benefits from the continuity of the mill, with 45 percent of its workforce living in town and paying taxes. Another advantage is that the town doesn’t have to deal with an abandoned manufacturing site.
There are well over 60 mills in the Berkshires, many of which have been reused, some as community spaces. That’s what happened with the former Crane Stationery in Dalton, now known as the Stationery Factory, home to 17 businesses, including a brewpub, and building success as an events space, with a permit for 700 people and a capacity for up to 1,400. But getting there required cleanup and redesign, undertakings that can be expensive.
That has meant recently polishing the factory’s 10,000-square-foot concrete floor, putting in new bathrooms, and investing in a performance-space sound system. But the effort is paying off. The Stationery Factory has hosted the 1Berkshire Creative Resources conference, a Taste of the Berkshires event, a costume ball with the Massachusetts Renaissance Fair, an Albany Berkshire Ballet presentation, a 2018 Berkshire Earth Expo, and rotating art shows in the gallery.
“We’re looking at doing stuff that is more theme-based, like a festival instead of a concert, for the weekend,” says Steve Sears, co-owner of the Stationery Factory and a former employee of Crane & Co. “For weekdays, we hope to eventually book some regional and national acts as well.”
Greylock WORKS in North Adams has a similar plan. The former cotton-spinning mill is now an event space with a full catering kitchen, and has hosted several events since last August, including a wedding, a North Adams candidates forum, and a Pop Cares charity event. The mill’s Festive event in November, which featured artisans, crafters, farmers, distillers, and more, was expected to bring in at least 700 people but enticed almost three times that number.
“We’re going to do a version of Festive in the fall and also something in the spring as well,” says mill co-owner Salvatore Perry. “It was really exciting to see over 2,000 people come in for this inaugural market and to have over 50 vendors signed up, some of which sold out and many of which said it was the best market they had been to. People have been sending us emails to ask for our calendar for the year so they can be on the list and be part of it. It was a really affirming day after a lot of effort.”
The mill has concentrated on the outside recently, with landscaping and parking, and has plans for further landscaping, a pedestrian walkway, and lighting. Inside, more work will be done to the food-production space, with an eye toward educational programming and pop-up restaurant capacity.
In addition to summer weddings in its majestic, skylit event space, and Lever’s 2018 entrepreneurial Demo Day, there are two large public events planned in June and July at Greylock WORKS. On Saturday, June 30 it will produce the third in a series of sold-out dance parties that are bringing a new nightlife destination to the Berkshires in collaboration with local DJs, immersive light and audio wizardry, and a sultry lounge serving local craft beer and savory mixology. On July 28, it will produce Heirloom By Design, the seasonal sister of its Fall Festive Holiday Market.
“We’re having really interesting conversations with some businesses that are ready to expand. Some are ready to relocate to the region, and it’s a very organic and synergistic process that we don’t feel in a rush to conclude,” says Perry’s partner, Karla Rothstein.
The team says that one of the differences in doing a project like this in the Berkshires—they are architects based in New York City—is the collaborative nature of the various entrepreneurial efforts here, touring each other’s facilities, giving feedback, and even coordinating efforts.
Sears sees collaboration as natural to what everyone is trying to accomplish, and crucial to the survival of the towns that these mills exist in.
“We have to be thoughtful as to how do we transition our industrial town into something that doesn’t become stagnant,” Sears says, “and so you don’t end up with one of these mills that you leave it alone for a couple of years, and costs $70 million to bring it back into the public use.”