Breathing life into an abandoned building: Paper City Clothing readies for a new home

By Max Bowen

For the Gazette

Published: 11-15-2022 6:24 PM

HOLYOKE — The Paper City Clothing Company is gearing up for a big move, and in the process will revitalize a High Street downtown building once destined for the wrecking ball.

The business, which designs and prints clothing in-house, is in the process of moving to new space at 144 High St. — a former art gallery and frame shop that has been abandoned for years. According to co-founder and owner Carlos Peña, the space is approximately 6,000 square feet, three times the size of the current location on 358 Dwight St., which they have operated since 2016. Peña said the influx of cannabis businesses has led to rent prices increasing by almost 40%.

“The cannabis industry has come into Holyoke and changed the economic platform of the space — it’s already too expensive,” Peña said. “As a small company, we just don’t have the capital needed.”

This presented a problem for Paper City. A portion of the space on Dwight Street is used for gallery and art shows and for youth to learn silk-screen printing. If Peña were to take that and use it for the business, it would eliminate that ability to give back to the community, something he said is very important and central to their mission.

“First and foremost, we’re a social enterprise, a business with a goal or a mission behind it,” he said. “We want the youth to learn the process of silk-screening, create a product that they can sell or market.”

Finding a new location

And so, the search for a new location was on. Peña said he kept his eyes on Holyoke’s abandoned properties and unsuccessfully tried twice to secure one through a request for proposals process.

“We were missing content or not knowing how to write the proposal,” he said. “We grew and learned.”

Then earlier this year they had success. Following a competitive bid process, the city of Holyoke selected Paper City Clothing out of six applicants as buyers for 144 High St., according to an announcement. Holyoke Mayor Joshua Garcia said the city has a number of abandoned properties, some in which the building can be saved and others where it may need to be demolished. For 144 High St., demolition was on the agenda, until they received responses to the request for proposals.

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Garcia said Paper City Clothing was chosen due to it being a grassroots organization that would give back to the community.

“They have an interesting model that engages community and educates our youth — all of which are very positive and checks off those boxes,” he said.

Holyoke has a Property Preservation Group, consisting of different department heads, said Garcia. The group meets regularly to assess the city’s abandoned properties and see what can be done to preserve them. He said one challenge is that the current zoning may limit what can be built.

“Whenever you get an opportunity to preserve a piece of that history is definitely a benefit,” said the mayor.

Paper City’s future

The space offers a lot of opportunities for the business and its community outreach. Peña said they can double the retail space, have more room for gallery shows and classes, and create an apartment to rent out to offset costs.

But before all that can happen, there’s a lot of work to do. The building is in dire need of repairs, having no working utilities and a collapsed roof. There’s also a section of the second floor missing and a lot of water damage. Peña said they have two years to move into the building and began the process of clearing it out over the summer. He said around 10 containers of trash have been taken out and the basement has been cleared.

“It was scary, walking through the building and seeing how bad it was, all the things you have to fix,” he said. “It’s scary to put all the eggs in one basket and hope not all of them break.”

The business received a matching $20,000 grant from BizMPower MA Growth Capital Corp., and has until Nov. 17 to raise the same amount. They’ve started a crowdfunding campaign on Patronicity to accomplish this, and have raised $14,202 as of Monday. Patronicity is similar to sites like Patreon, with a focus on the arts. Peña said if they can’t raise the needed funds, it all goes back to the donors and they’ll need to find another way to raise the capital.

Meanwhile, El Punto Paper City LLC will get $260,000 to address major damage to 144 High St., which is being renovated and reactivated as the new home of Paper City Clothing Co., a destination retail shop and art gallery staffed by local youth. A smaller storefront unit will be leased to another local business, and renovations to the second floor will add a residential unit to downtown.

The business also recently secured $260,000 in funding through the state’s Community One Stop for Growth’s underutilized properties program.

Peña learned to screen-print back when he was a student at UMass with friend Fernando Goffe, according to the campaign. Years later, his partner Katy Moonan helped launch the business with support from the EForAll Holyoke program. The business later partnered with ArteSana Inc., a nonprofit that Moonan ran from 2014 to 2020. With ArteSana Youth Studio, Paper City has created part-time jobs for 24 youth from Holyoke, as well as free design, screen-printing, and entrepreneurship education workshops.

Peña said they have five youth currently on staff, all from Holyoke. They work at the store, learn screen-printing, and help with events.

“It (purchasing this property) allows us to own our own property and own our own outcome and really serve the community,” said Peña. “Owning your own property is one of the biggest things as a business that you can do for yourself.”

For more information on the campaign, visit dio#!/