Mill No. 5 is home to a number of thriving little boutique businesses and creative ventures.
Photo credit: Joel Laino
One of the most beloved shops inside Mill No. 5 is Red Antler Apothecary. “Like so many things, it’s an evolution,” says Rachel Chandler who owns the place with her husband, Rick Stec. Shelves and cabinets hold their homemade soaps and bath products that include moisturizers, massage oils, bath bombs, lip and cheek tints, and an extensive line of men’s grooming products (oh, and nutritional dog biscuits, too).
The couple opened the apothecary in September 2014. Chandler attributes their near-immediate success to their location inside the mill and to the support of its community members. “Had this been an independent storefront at sidewalk level, I don’t know that it would have happened. We were lucky enough to receive an invitation to be here.” They had set up at a market and Lichoulas recognized them as a good potential fit. “It’s been a support system that has, for sure, gotten us through parts [of starting a business] that would have been very challenging…. The coexistence thing is a really good financial model.”
Like all the mill vendors, they found what they do best and that is what they offer, nothing less. “Everyone makes a chocolate chip cookie,” notes Chandler, “but not everybody is Mrs. Fields.” The first product they felt stood the test of being the best was their soaps. “I find real joy in cutting into a loaf [of soap] to see how things went color-wise—there’s still a genuine excitement.” For the making of those soaps, she uses plants they grow at home as well as some from local farmers—including Mill City Grows. They also keep an aviary and incorporate and their bees’ honey and beeswax into their products.
Their vision is to become a full-fledged apothecary capable of filling prescriptions. “That has always been the vision,” says Chandler, who is working on a formal education in evidence-based naturopathy. They already offer some medicinal remedies but once she puts in her 400 clinical hours, they will bring it to a whole new level.
Chandler values community engagement and offers workshops intended to get people in to learn something new—something that may lead to their making informed choices about their health and the environment.
Back to the cross collaboration that is at Mill No. 5’s core: Chandler and Stec carry ceramics made by Derek SooHoo, another mill vendor. With help from Made in Lowell’s Tobias Marx they are embarking on creating a food co-op and getting Lowell Honey Society off the ground. And she even thinks about the potential for blacksmithing skills (Stec is studying to become a master blacksmith) to add to the mill’s aesthetic.
Unlike many others, Chandler saw the mill four years ago, when it was completely empty and in the conceptual phase. She notes that most visitors can’t fathom the wide-open space it was because Lichoulas has done such a phenomenal job of making the architectural elements “so age-appropriate.” She thinks of it as a “fantasyland.” It’s true, Lichoulas has a keen eye for salvaged materials. The mill actually houses an enormous collection of his findings—things he is waiting for the right project to use. Or he may build something around a piece he loves. “He has bodies of buildings laying around,” laughs Chandler.
Because their shop is one of the first people encounter when getting off the elevator, Chandler hears many first-impression comments, many of which include references to the feeling of being in a foreign country— the experience is that compelling.---
Kim Graham, The Farm Market manager, affirms when people arrive for the first time and look down the hall, they are completely wowed. “It’s just what Jim envisioned,” she smiles.
The Market, just like the mill, is meant to be a place for small vendors to test the waters in their efforts to grow. Graham brings people in who offer only vendor-produced food and food-related products. “I think it is important the people know where their food comes from but even a few more steps beyond that,” she says. “Like where was it grown, who grew it, and how the meat was raised and handled before it went to market.”
Vendors include Lowell’s Sweet Lydia’s and Q’s Nuts—both of which are also at The Boston Public Market—and pop-ups like Top Shelf Cooking and Jennifer Lee’s Gourmet Bakery. “I am pleased to say that a lot of vendors have been at the Boston Market—it speaks to the value of our vendors and the quality of the products they have.” With a few exceptions, just about everything needed for a week’s groceries is available at the market including meat: Groton’s Maple Shade Farm carries pork, beef, and goat, while Julie’s Happy Hen offers meat as well as duck, chicken, and occasionally ostrich eggs.
“The Farm Market believes that, as part of a healthy lifestyle, you have to have a healthy community and that is what the market does.” It’s more than a place to buy foodstuffs, it is a place to bond with people who share similar philosophies. “It’s the kind of place you need to experience to really understand what it’s all about. The advertising is pretty minimal. The idea is that: If you like it, we want you to tell your friends.”
A visit to Luna Theater redefines the movie-going experience for those of us who frequent the standard multi-screen movie theaters. Visitors are transported upon entrance. “From our luminous Luna sign located at the end of the Mill No. 5 streetscape to our vintage concession counter and our classic Manley popcorn machine, our customers' first impression is of wonder,” explains director Amelia Tucker. Instead of traditional theater seating, guests at the Luna enjoy craft beer or cider while relaxing in cozy red armchairs with side tables. “Every detail is considered,” adds Tucker, “including the pre-show soundtrack and our pre-show reel of vintage policy and concession stand animation.”
Luna’s indie atmosphere lends itself to off-beat movies, shows, and events. First-run independent films make up the bulk of the programming, giving guests the opportunity to catch films they won’t see in large theaters. “Every film that we choose to screen is curated and picked for quality, originality, and/or artistic merit,” says Tucker. “We also love to have fun! We don't take ourselves too seriously, and offer up free movie nights like Weirdo Wednesdays, Nostalgia Fridays, and The Magical Mystery Movie Club.”
The theater’s “Classic Movie Sundays” are a major crowd pleaser; for just five dollars, visitors can enjoy a film from Hollywood’s Golden era based on a theme that changes monthly. February’s theme, “Love and Romance,” makes the Sunday show a great opportunity for a romantic date night. On Thursday evenings, the theater offers “Luna Sessions,” a night of free live jazz; “Our house band features some of the most talented players in the area,” says Tucker.
The theater is a welcome nod to Lowell’s cinematic history: “All of Mill No. 5 is intended to be a bit magical,” says Mill No. 5 owner and developer Jim Lichoulas. “Lowell has a rich history of film and movie palaces. Times have changed and those places are long gone, but we wanted to give guests a taste of that experience.” Movie-lovers from all over the North Shore have flocked to the theater since its opening in September 2014. “Our audience is extremely diverse, and we love that,” adds Tucker. “We hear ‘Wow, Lowell really needed this place!’ often.”