New businesses get space to grow at Slater Mill Mall

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Jewett City - posted Mon., Mar. 11, 2013
Kristin Sweeney works in the stockroom of Onion Mountain Technologies, a provider of low-tech aids for special-needs students, which moved into Slater Mill Mall in December. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
Kristin Sweeney works in the stockroom of Onion Mountain Technologies, a provider of low-tech aids for special-needs students, which moved into Slater Mill Mall in December. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

A fresh coat of paint and some new businesses are brightening the economic outlook at Slater Mill Mall. While the repurposed textile mill has seen some turnover among its resident businesses through the turbulent real estate market, five new entrepreneurs have moved in within the past six months, with the potential for more to follow.

“I knew it was a great place to have a business like this,” said Kristin Sweeney, of Onion Mountain Technology, a supplier of specialty educational tools and supplies for students with special needs. The business came to Jewett City in December after running for 14 years out of the home of founder and CEO Judith Sweeney, Kristin’s mother-in-law.

When the business outgrew the home office, Kristin suggested that a move closer to her Canterbury home might yield more space for less rent and allow her to balance running the business with the needs of her school-age children. “For us, we needed a warehouse-style space,” she said.

Mill owner Alan Williams agreed to shift space to accommodate the business’s catalog warehouse, she said. “They’ve really gone above and beyond to make this space work for us. The loading dock’s right down the hall. It’s a nice space.”

While Onion Mountain does not have a storefront per se, it maintains a stock of software and low-tech tools to help children with a wide range of physical needs. Stacked in the warehouse bins are such school supplies as ergonomically-shaped pens and pencils, rulers with handles, talking calculators and a simple tool to ease page-turning. Kristin said that the business also develops special kits based on a student’s individual needs, which includes not only the tools but a custom manual describing their use and offering curriculum ideas for teachers.

Onion Mountain and its upstairs neighbor, the Curriculum Coop, a bookstore and learning resource center for home-schooling families, keep an educational presence in the Slater Mill Mall despite the departure last fall of Mad Science. That business, which conducted hands-on science workshops for young people and had been a tenant at the mall for nine years, moved out last fall to transition to a home-based business, said Mall Manager Todd DeMaio.

But other entrepreneurs are stepping in to fill the breach. Among the new tenants are CeeCee’s Closet, a resale clothing consignment shop; Studio Desmeen, a studio offering lessons in Middle Eastern belly dance; and Aerial Arts Fitness, which teaches pole fitness and yoga.

Gayle Renaud, director of Studio Desmeen, said she moved to the Slater Mill from the studio’s former home on Main Street, where it had been located since 2003. She said she was looking for a new space with an eye toward establishing a performing arts center offering lessons in many forms of dance, voice and other means of dramatic expression. The new space will also allow her to expand classes for beginning belly dancers, she said.

The mill helps provide new or growing businesses with incubator space, said Williams. “We’re giving them a very good deal so they could start a new business in a tough economy. What we’re finding is that we’re able to give them the opportunity to start their business, or in some cases, to grow their business,” he said.

The structure’s largest tenant, College Mart Flea Market, is open only on Sundays, and Williams said that it tends to attract a different clientele, shoppers from throughout the region looking for “good deals and little treasures.” The other businesses cater to regular or specialty customers or students throughout the week, he said.

The flea market takes up about three-fourths of the mall’s rentable floor space. Of the remainder, just over one-half the space is currently rented, said DeMaio. Several of the tenants have been in place for a decade or more, including Family Headquarters barber shop, Quality Tool Repair, Enshin Karate Studio, and Two Sisters Shipping.

Williams said that his love of history first drew him to Slater Mill, which began operations as a textile mill around 1810 and at one time churned out lengths of red, white and blue bunting for parades and patriotic occasions. Since he bought the structure in the early 1980s, he has thoroughly explored the mill and retraced the path of the old mill race, which once ran under the current parking lot site and carried water from the Pachaug River to power the looms.

“I had a love of historic buildings,” Williams said. “We’re trying to preserve a piece of history here. We’re working on restoring the mill piece by piece.” In the past year, that work has included roofing repairs, masonry restoration and interior remodeling and painting, he said.


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