Built in 1873, Mill No. 5 is a historical building that stood empty for years and is now one of the main pillars and attractions in the community. Located outside of Boston, in Lowell, Massachusetts, Mill No. 5 is a great example of a restored, re-purposed, community-focused building with an eclectic style all of its own.
The founder and owner, Jim Lichoulas took the old textile mill and painstakingly restored it with incredible architectural detail. Jim gives us a behind the scene look on the restoration of Mill No.5 and how it became the redesigned space it is today.
“Mill No. 5 is an old textile mill. The original owner was Nathaniel Appleton, one of the founders of Lowell. The property entered my family in 1975. We were real estate developers, mostly doing apartments. Even as the lower parts of the building were developed, the upper floors of the Mill building were always very hard to find tenets for, and we mostly left that unfinished. We have completed and renovated 30,000sqft with another 30,000sqft to go.”
Small companies and startups are the main occupants of Mill No. 5. With an eclectic boutique-y feel, the renovated space includes features such as an independent movie theater, a yoga studio, a farm-to-table café and a Victorian Lounge, focusing on bringing innovation together into a campus-like community.
“The benefits of being a tenant at Mill No. 5 are the other people around you. So many people who have their own businesses work alone – they work out of their homes. Bringing them all together under one roof really allows them to share their experiences and be a part of a community.”
“With our tenants, most of the spaces are very small, 100sqft and they pay a very low rent. And even though the space may be small, that person now has an actual store where they can have a place of operation, hold events, and be part of a larger community. We have been able to create diversity and a concentration of different retailers in the space. If you have a small space that’s beautiful and reflects your brand and is affordable, there is value in that. There is value in being part of a community where you have shared space – whether it’s a café, or the Victorian Lounge – those become your meeting areas, your conference rooms.”
Aesthetically appealing, the space was designed with all reclaimed fixtures and salvaged materials collected over the years. This stylistic path was chosen to bring people into a different type of environment – telling a story through each pieces and design.
“For the space, we wanted to use salvaged pieces because we wanted to show people the value of things that were undervalued – how to take a negative and turn it into a positive. I have been collecting salvaged pieces for years, through my whole life. So we wanted to use them and put them together in a way that was useful and made sense. We wanted people to care about the environment – to see that it is real and there is a story to it.”
“Salvaging materials is something I have done throughout my life as well as looked for specifically for Mill No.5. If I have an idea in mind or I know something will go well with another piece I have, I will go search for those. But sometimes the things find you. I think the real challenge is taking all the pieces and making them work together, in a smart way and on an appropriate scale. I have seen a lot of salvaged pieces that are just thrown together. We really take the time to look at the pieces we have and fill in the pieces we know are missing.”
As a real estate developer and contractor, Jim firmly believes that it makes more sense to realize his own ideas then to try to have someone else do it. Mill No.5 has a defined point of view in which both partners wanted to be seen in both their design concept and civic attitude.
“I would have never been able to convince someone else to do this project the way that we have done it. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. Everyone always asks me ‘why are you doing this?’ Well it is really about trying to give people something that is a real experience. It’s about quality, being part of the community – it’s a destination as opposed to just a place to go to work.”
With such an eclectic style, people have flocked to Mill No.5, both locally and beyond, giving a home to artists, designers, and creative characters alike.
“It is completely open to the public. There are some businesses [at Mill No.5] that are completely retail, but there is also a yoga studio, the movie theatre, café – those are the things that people come for every day. And for the retail spaces, people can come and go as they please.”
“We attract people from all over, as far away as New York and Upper New England. It is really exciting to have the great feedback we have had thus far. The one thing that is typical, the commonalty between the people who come, is that they are all passionate about what they do and they want to share their passions with other people. So there is a certain openness and spirit – a certain vibe that is very much similar to entrepreneurs who are willing to take great chances and go to great length for their passions.”
Aside from working spaces, Mill No. 5 also has artists’ lofts & event space for rent on the top floor.
“We are turning into a bit of a function space destination as well. People rent out our theater space for live music, live theater etc. We’ve also had a fundraising event which happened throughout the hallways of Mill No.5 with live music and photo displays. We like to think of Mill No.5 as a real destination because people go there knowing that something cool is happening.”
The public reaction since the opening has been phenomenal. From local events to day to day activities, it truly seems that Mill No.5 has filled a niche gap of creativity, innovation and community.
“I started this project very naively. It really started small and just spiraled out of control, in a good way. We would have all of these ideas and start acting on those ideas and bringing other people in, incorporating their ideas, and it just kept growing bigger and bigger. It’s really been an evolution the whole time, with making decisions and learning from those decisions as we go. And now we are going upstairs to another 30,000sqft renovation project where we will probably do a function space and a live music venue. I want it to grow as the community grows.”
When asked if Jim was surprised by the success and the positive response from the community, he stated, “Yeah, I am shocked. You know, people want that real experience; they want to connect with people. I am very happy with the turnout.”
When looking to the future, Jim notes that it is time to turn the creativity and innovativeness to the public. They will be the ones to tell what could happen next.
“The space really incorporates my wish list already – it has a theater, it’s a beautiful space, we have a farm-to-table café, which is reflective of my opinions on food. So what I really want to do is have other people influence the space and they will decide what comes next, not me. It is a constant back and forth of ideas and feedback. There is no dumb idea, we want to hear them all and see what we can make happen. We can’t do it ourselves but we are the catalyst that could make it happen. So we will see where that leads us.”