For the first hundred years, Elmira’s Roxton building was home to a furniture manufacturer. In the last two decades, however, it’s been repurposed many times. Today it’s undergoing a revival as a funky space for retailers and artisans.
The Shops at Roxton is a concept that expands on the retail component long anchored by the Elmira Gift Outlet. The recent arrival of the Second Floor Garden, Martha’s Mixes and Gramma B’s Craft Den on the main floor of the building allows for the new focus.
The building began life in 1890 as the home of Roxton Furniture, undergoing several additions over the years. Wooden furniture was made there until 1988, when the business wound down. Shortly thereafter, a decision was made to sell off the Guelph plant and retain the Elmira site. Three phone calls were all it took to lease out most of the space at the 100,000-square-foot facility, recalls Randy Hersey, a longtime Roxton employee who now runs the Union Street operation.
Those calls were made to the gift outlet’s Doug Edenborough, Martin Mills and Borg Textile, which later became Glenoit.
Elmira Gift Outlet has gone on to occupy a large chunk of the building, specifically a newer wing. The pet food mill used space to store packaging materials, and the textile plant had warehouse space there.
Ironically, the latter’s old factory building on Howard Avenue – although not an historical structure – is now home to a variety of operations, largely used for storage and warehousing, including space leased by the pet food plant.
While the building has seen some retail activity over the years – including Pinpoint Marketing and the Pine ‘n Apple Co. – with The Shops at Roxton, there is a revival underway making use of the building’s old-fashioned charm, said Hersey.
With the recent arrival of North Woolwich Pottery in a second-floor studio space, there is the potential for an artisans’ community, he added.
“I love this space. I love coming to work here every day, and, as a creative person, I find inspiration from this building,” said potter Wanda Densmore.
“This is a great old building. It’s been waiting to be appreciated.”
Playing up the building’s history, Hersey plans to feature old photos and Roxton memorabilia in spots around the facility.
The building itself proudly shows its history, with plenty of exposed brick and other interior elements such as its heavy post-and-beam construction. Wooden beams show wear from frequent run-ins with carts used to move furniture around the three-storey structure, for instance. Just opposite the space occupied by Gramma B’s is an old freight elevator still in service today. Originally a rope-and-pulley manual elevator, it was converted to an automated system in 1913. Like every elevator in the province, it’s inspected every year, still working as well as it did when furniture travelled up to the third floor for finishing.
All of the trappings of the old building remain for everyone to see.
“It still looks like an old factory, just the way it did when we were making furniture here,” said Hersey. “The open concept keeps everything visible.”
With The Shops at Roxton, about 10 per cent of the 100,000-square-foot building is given over to retail. Much of the building is still used for warehousing. There are also tenants in office space, including Enviro-Stewards, an environmental consulting firm, and International Teams, a Christian missionary organization.
Most of the Roxton building is leased out, though about 5,000 square feet remains up for grabs just now. However, one of the new arrivals, a gardening supply company now getting established, is eyeing that space.
Given the ever-changing character of the building, Hersey sees an opportunity for growth in the retail component. The new vendors there are looking at The Shops at Roxton venture as a chance to showcase the Union Street structure.
“As it is now, it’s like having a local shopping mall,” said Todd Cowan, who has about four times more space for his Martha’s Mixes operation than he did at the previous Maple Street location.