Mill No. 5 proving local retail still alive
By Jordan Haime
LOWELL — As bigname department stores Americans grew up with like Sears and Macy’s continue to close their doors around the country to invest more in e-commerce, it’s been easy for some to speculate that inperson retail is dying.
Consumer trends are changing and online shopping websites like Amazon are taking over and this holiday season, consumers are shopping from their smartphones more than ever.
But local, independent businesses in Lowell are proving that brick-andmortar retail isn’t dead; it just looks a little different than it used to.
The future of shopping may look a little bit like Mill No. 5, the fourth and fifth floor of the textile mill-turned-shopping center, coffee shop and movie theater that has become a major downtown destination since its opening in 2013.
Maybe it’s the charm of the nearly 150-year-old red brick building, or the holiday lights and sweet smells that greet you as you step out of the elevator. Or maybe it’s the way that the mill is constantly developing, innovating, and changing to keep shoppers coming back.
What attracts thousands to Mill No. 5, says owner and director Jim Lichoulas, is its ways of attracting customers: That means creating a positive shopping experience, not just an everyday shopping trip. “Mill No. 5 is about experience and being in a community and being part of the physical world… (it’s) a unique physical experience that is unlike what you can get online,” Lichoulas said.
To add to the shopping experience and keep customers engaged yearround, the mill hosts weekly farmers’ markets with live music on Sundays, themed artisan markets nearly every Saturday, new and old films for the whole family at affordable prices, and special events at the mill’s shops, like wine and cheese tastings at Mill
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Mill No. 5 proving local retail still viable in Lowell
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“E-commerce isn’t killing retail, its just changing how retail is done. Its still possible to be a successful downtown retailer, it just requires new strategies,” said Andrew Shapiro, director of economic development for the city of Lowell.
Mill No. 5 has been “tremendously positive,” for the city, Shapiro added, offering small business a space to test their products at reasonable rent costs.
“When you go on Amazon, you have to know what you’re looking for. So when you come into my store or really any store here at Mill No. 5, you’re working with the store owner on items they have selected so you don’t have to do that,” said Claire Mosenfelder, owner of Over the Spoon, a boutique kitchen store in the mill with a curated selection of items from around the world, and from local artisans like ceramicists and potters based at Western Avenue Studios.
One of the mill’s newer shops, Over the Spoon opened Nov. 17. Though the store is still in its beginning stages, Mosenfelder says business has exceeded her expectations.
“I’ve had some repeat business already, which is excellent,” she said, “From my conversations with the other shops, this holiday season is the best one yet.”
The best method of advertising, Lichoulas said, has mostly been word of mouth. Sales at the mill, based on the success at Coffee and Cotton, are up 30 percent since last year, with sale analytics showing that over half of the mill’s customers come from outside of Lowell.
Frank Casazza has been with the Mill No. 5 for three years in his shop Eyeformation, where he and his wife sell original designs and illustrations on apparel and accessories evocative of Lowell’s old mill town nostalgia. He says his marketing tactics, primarily social mediabased, have been more successful at bringing people into the shop – rather than buying from his online store – than he realized.
“People come from as far as Boston as a direct product of social media,” Casazza said.
Over the years, Mill No. 5 has expanded from its original three storefronts on the fourth floor of the building, to more than 15 businesses altogether, with plans to expand up to the fifth floor soon. Licoulas says the mill is finally starting to look the way he originally envisioned it would, and people are taking notice.
Starting in January, Off the Beaten Path Food Tours, a tour company based in Boston, will start giving specialty food tours of Mill No. 5, which Lichoulas says will not only bring more customers to the mill, but to downtown Lowell as well.
“The secret, which isn’t a secret at all, is trying to be of service and provide interesting, good things for people to enjoy. Offering something of value. And that’s why people come back. If it weren’t beautiful on the inside… why would people come back?” Lichoulas says.
Mill No. 5 is open for last-minute holiday shopping 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Dec. 24.
Frank Casazza, who owns and operates Eyeformation on the fourth floor at Mill No 5 in Lowell said “People come from as far as Boston as a direct product of social media.”