For Valentines Day I took Cailie out to Western Nj. It had been a while since we had done any exploring and I figured this would be a good time to go for a random drive around NJ. We first stopped at T.M. Ward, a great coffee retailer and institution in Newark. While Cailie ran in to get some coffee and peanut butter, I quickly looked through google maps to find a destination: Flemington it was.
I chose to go to Flemington for a couple of reasons: I had never been there, I was hoping to make it into Eastman, PA, and somewhere in the depths of my brain, I had heard that Flemington was cool.
After driving through the suburban and exurban fringe along US 202 we arrived at a couple of traffic circles that brought us into downtown Flemington. As we were driving down Main Street, we saw signs for a farmers market and decided to check out what was going on. Turning on Mine Street brought us to the Stangl Factory.
The Stangl Factory was the second Flemington factory of Stangl Pottery which got its start as HIll Pottery in 1814. Here high quality ceramic products were produced for several decades. This is part of the industrial revolution’s small town legacy throughout New Jersey. Fortunately, the factory survived despite Stangl Pottery’s closing in 1978. The Stangl Factory was repurposed and renovated in 2012 bringing it to its current use. Since opening it has been recognized by the New Jersey Business & Industry Association with a New Good Neighbor Award.
The main entrance is near the center of the factory site. Walking in reveals a expansive and flexible industrially designed space which at this time was being used to host the farmer market. Vendors from around the area had set up to sell their food and crafts. We ended up getting some locally raised ground lamb and lamb sausages as well as a coat hanger/mirror made of reclaimed materials. When it isn’t being used for the farmers market, this space is used for concerts, arts shows, and other events. It can even be rented out for private events. This isn’t simply a flexible space either. Connected on the south side of the main space is the SOMI gallery and on the north side is further common space, a coffee house (Factory Fuel Co), Blue Sky Boutique and Gyldcraft Antiques.
The Stangl Factory is a great model for economic development. I’ve been paying a lot of attention to strongtowns.org and the writings of Charles Marohn. In January, Marohn posted a podcast about Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s views of antifragile systems. Antifragile systems are ones that get stronger as they are placed under stress. For example, when you run, it places stress on your leg bones. Subsequently, your leg bones react by becoming stronger. In the case of the Stangl Factory, stresses that affect it are likely to make it stronger. This is the case because the Stangl Factory model supports existing businesses, helps start new ones and is able to adapt its use of space with ease.
The stores in the Stangl Factory benefit significantly from this model. The farmers markets and other events bring in new people. This increased foot traffic increases their visibility and ultimately increases their sales.
The farmers market helps create new businesses by allowing people who are beginning in food, arts and crafts to have a place to sell their work without high overhead. By simply renting a table at a time when people are likely to show up, these places have a higher chance of succeeding as they develop than if they had to rent their own space. Some of these individuals will sell well and some will not. Those that don’t will not suffer the devastating financial hardships that they might have if they rented their own store. The failure is so cheap that stubborn individuals can afford risk failure multiple times (until they fail to fail). The ones that succeed may be able to move out and have their own location.
Even though this setup is great for existing businesses, as I discussed in my last post, some of these companies at the Stangl factory will not last. Given the winter we are having, I wouldn’t be surprised if the owner of one of them packed up and moved south. When this happens, the Stangl factory will have a couple of easy options. The first would be to rent out space to one of the successful vendors from the farmers market. In many ways, the farmers market generates new tenants. If the vendor is doing good at the location, why not? Assuming there is nobody at the farmers market willing to take the space, the other option is to convert the space into flexible space. More space for markets, concerts, exhibitions and private parties will keep this place lively and vibrant.
In an economy that has been struggling and one that has seen a decreased number of new companies being formed, places like the Stangl Factory will be more important. Not only do they provide a great cultural resource, but they provide space for companies to incubate and transition through several stages of growth. Cities that want to improve their economic prospects should look to the Stangl Factory.