Easthampton’s first mill building to become office and retail building under new owner
EASTHAMPTON — The historic Union Street building that previously held the city’s first mill and most recently Landry Furniture is undergoing another transformation. It was purchased Friday by Kevin A. Perrier, owner of Five Star Building Corp. on East Street.
Perrier, 31, said he plans to completely renovate the 1847 mill building so it can house his company’s headquarters, office or professional space for lease, and another furniture store. Workers are already gutting the building and the first tenant could move in as early as April.
“We’ve been looking for a while; this is an excellent building and the timing was right,” Perrier said of the purchase. “We’ve been growing by leaps and bounds and we need more office space, and we wanted to stay in Easthampton. It’s a plus that the building is incredible.”
He purchased the 31,392-square-foot building at 123-133 Union St. for $300,000 from Robert Landry, who ran Landry Furniture there until it closed last summer.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Mayor Michael A. Tautznik said of the news. “It’s the right buyer — the building needs a lot of work and Five Star is capable of doing it.”
“The building has historic character and a historic position in the city. It’s great it’s getting reused and not razed,” he added.
Perrier, an Easthampton native who lives in Huntington, said working on such a historic building is exciting. In honor of the building’s original use as a button mill, he has named it The Button Building.
Renovation and reuse
Perrier said the building needs major renovations, and though he declined to name a price, he said it will cost him more than the $300,000 he spent on the building.
“We’re spending a lot upfront and we’re hoping to get returns in the end,” he said.
He will also save between 10 and 15 percent on the project because his company is doing the work, so there won’t be any mark-up, he said.
The work will include installing a new roof, an elevator, a handicapped-accessible bathroom and putting energy-efficient glass in all the boarded-up windows — the same new windows that Five Star just finished installing at One Cottage Street, the next-door mill building that houses Riverside Industries and artists’ studios.
“I think putting the windows in is going to make a world of difference,” Perrier said of beautifying the highly visible building. He also plans to remove the blue awning at the entrance to the former Landry Furniture store and to repaint the building, now off-white, a more subdued color that will fit with the other mills around it.
The building is four floors, including the basement, which Perrier said will be used for storage. Furniture Recyclers will lease the entire first floor.
Co-owner Marie Petlock said the second-hand furniture store she and her husband, Wayne Petlock, own at 31 Union St. will remain open but having a second location that’s triple the size of their current store will allow them to display all the furniture they have in stock.
Five Star Building Corp.’s offices will occupy half of the second floor and the rest of that floor will be renovated into office space. Perrier has not decided yet what the third floor will hold.
The building company’s equipment will still be housed in the barn at 17 East St., he said, but he will lease out the office space there.
He acknowledged that is a little unusual for a building company to move to a downtown area.
“We don’t need a storefront — we don’t rely on foot traffic,” he said. “It wasn’t a top priority for us to be downtown, but the opportunity presented itself.”
The move will give Five Star more than double the amount of office space it now has, he said. That’s important because his business has been growing as the market has improved since the recession, he said. The company has 19 full-time employees now, but Perrier said that number varies depending on how many projects are under way.
After demolition is complete, he hopes to start construction in a few weeks if the Planning Board approves the use at its Feb. 26 meeting. His offices could move there in the summer, depending on how quickly he finds a tenant to lease the East Street office.
Honoring a building’s history
Perrier said he is considering putting some sort of display in The Button Building’s lobby or common area that would pay homage to the building’s long history. “We’re excited to bring as much of that back as we can,” he said.
Easthampton native Samuel Williston and his partner Horatio Knight built the factory in 1847 to house the Williston-Knight Button Co., which manufactured cloth-covered buttons. He dammed Broad Brook to power the mill, creating Nashwannuck Pond, according to information from the late Easthampton historian Edward Dwyer that was published in the Gazette.
The button mill was the first of many mills that Williston and others opened nearby in the following few decades, changing the small agrarian town into an industrial center.
The Williston-Knight Button Co. went bankrupt in 1883, but the building held two other button companies until 1922. It was occupied by tenants including a cloth goods business and other wholesale companies, until Robert Landry’s parents, George and Anita Landry, bought the building in 1972. They had originally opened their store on Cottage Street in 1956 before moving it to the mill building, according to the store’s website.
Though breathing new life into an old building is exciting, Perrier said working on such buildings can bring “a lot of the unforeseen.”
“You never know what you’ll find when you open a wall. You run into a lot of surprises because they built things differently back then,” he said. So far, they haven’t found anything too alarming, he added.
New business in old buildings
Tautznik said that residents passing by the three massive mills at the intersection of Union and Cottage streets will notice a lot of changes soon. In addition to Five Star’s work on The Button Building, One Cottage Street in the middle of the three has all new windows and construction is scheduled to begin this year at the former Dye Works building at 15 Cottage St. Arch Street Development of Boston is planning to transform the long-vacant building into 50 units of affordable rental housing while keeping the historic character of the building.
“This has been the objective,” Tautznik said of the citywide factory building transformation, a process that started 36 years ago. “This leaves us with very little mill space in need of redevelopment — just 1 Ferry St.”
That’s where the city’s largest industrial property, vacant since 2002, has been gutted and is on the market for $1.3 million. Owner Daniel Messier razed some buildings there this summer and said his plans for the future include apartments or condominiums and some commercial development.
Rebecca Everett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.