BERLIN — Patricia Fischer was doing double duty, manning the Town Center Antiques counter and flipping through the store’s financials. Mid-morning is typically a quiet time in the Main Street shop and the owner was taking advantage of the lull to catch up on some paperwork and talk about the company’s newest destination — the building formerly used as a Donaway Furniture storage facility.
During the week between Christmas and New Year, Fischer arranged to have the entire setup of Town Center II taken down at its former North Main Street local and re-erected in the Pitts Street building. It was a formidable task, completed without incident, but worth it not only to Fischer and the Town Center II vendors but to the Downtown and the local economy generally.
Incentive is the centerpiece of the story and the main catalyst of Fischer’s decision to relocate after 12 years on North Main Street and it begins with an opportunity fulfilled.
Town of Berlin Economic Development Director Michael Day shopped a state funding program, he’d been made aware of all around town. There were grants available for converting warehouse space into retail and office space. It provided the chance for businesses with the will and resources to get a little of the risk removed from expanding in a down economy.
Representatives of the Donaway Furniture company approached Fischer last November and proposed the move. They brought along a little incentive of their own.
Since the floor plan was open they offered Fischer the opportunity for input into how the restoration would commence and what the best floor plan for it would be. In the former Town Center II, each vendor space was separated by what Fischer called chicken flooring. For those unfamiliar, it looks like snow fencing made from wood — a line of long thin bars about three feet high placed vertically and held together at two points.
The trick in the design was to have enough open space to accommodate the more than 85 vendors without making the place cramped.
The goal was accomplished, with Fischer’s input, by leaving intact the high ceilings and leaving many of the walls stripped to the bare brick, both the up and downstairs of the building maintain a rustic, yet clean and organized feel.
The upstairs is accessed by the original staircase — only the treads needed to be replaced during the renovation — and the second level gives an insight into the building’s original use and the vast changes that have occurred since it opened to house the American Sales company 110 years ago.
American Sales was something of a mix between a hardware and department store, carrying, in addition to tools, everything from appliances to toys. The elevator wheel — a huge gear that remains mounted on the rear wall — is testimony to the building’s former use. The ample front windows retain their original stained glass and give the room superior light throughout the day and affecting a significant and noticeable change from Town Center II’s former location.
Although the move was hectic, the vendors are satisfied with the new space. Moreover, the change will benefit the Downtown in an even more significant way by providing a link between the Main Street and William Street shops.
Town Center II has long been a formidable North Main Street draw. As people find its new location, the expectation is more will be drawn to explore Berlin’s depth as well as its with.
Part of the reason for this anticipation is that the popular original Town Center Antiques store’s back door opens onto Pitts Street. While it will be retained for egress only Fischer said that the alternate and additional flow onto the side street will be in everyone’s best interest.
“Some vendors were worried that their customers would be able to find them,” she said. “But they have.”
By heavily promoting the transition between the two stores, Town Center II could be the very piece of the puzzle the off-Main Street section of the business district has been missing.
The promotional push begins next Thursday, Feb. 2 with the Town Center II’s ribbon cutting. The event, scheduled to run from 2-4 p.m. will be the stores coming out party. People are encouraged to come out and explore the restored historic building and reacquaint themselves with the antiquing experience.