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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Yesterday Ralph and I swung by the remodeled coffee shop in the Factory.

The Factory, for the uninitiated, used to be a literal factory. They made mattresses and stoves at various points and up until recently it was a sparsely populated retail venue, with the cool barber shop where I now get my hair cut, a taco place, a smallish theater where we saw Mamma Mia and an even smallerish theater where we saw a James Taylor cover band.

A cool old stove that they used to have on display.

There was the donut place, some mom and pop shops, an ice cream store, and a big, open central area with a bunch of couches where you could chill and eat your tacos and ice cream or work for a while.

And of course, the coffee shop.

Some months ago some investment company came in and laid out big plans for the Factory. They dragged in their beeping trucks and put up walls and tore down other walls. They cordoned off parking lots and erected “coming soon” signs.

It had all the promise of a New And Shiny thing. I thought it would be pretty nice if they brought some new restaurants and some fun stores in. I was not very pleased when I learned that they were not renewing the lease for the Farmers Market, but the market has outgrown itself anyway, and it could be nice to see it in a bigger space where you don’t have to triple park on the lawn and walk a quarter mile just to get your eggs.

A few weeks ago we went inside for the first time to check out the new bar, which they put into the central area where the couches used to be.

If you have never seen the Factory it’s hard to explain it, so you’ll have to take my word for it when I tell you that it had an industrial-chic charm. Lots of brickwork and cement, all sorts of metal things sticking out of everywhere and catwalks lining the upper story. Old, thick panes of colored glass and lots of nooks and crannies.

Some of the unique glass on one of the factory buildings.

It was big and wide enough that each Christmas, every shop would put a full size Christmas tree in the hallway outside their door and you could walk down this magical corridor of lights and color.

A few of the trees lining the interior.

I loved it for what it was, but that doesn’t mean I never wanted it to change. It needed change. It needed more things. It needed more stores and more places to eat. It needed to be a little more lively and a little less neglected.

A bit of the interior before the remodel.

But change is a double edged sword.

So when we stopped in to see the bar, the bar that had replaced the otherwise cozy central “living room”, we were both stunned into silence.

And not the good kind.

The bar is… huge. I cannot put it any other way. If I had been expecting an inviting and rustic sort of industrial atmosphere I was sorely disappointed. If I had been expecting a creative integration of old wood and new metal, past and present, modern and retro, I was sorely mistaken.

They ripped out all the metalwork and catwalks. They removed all the couches and tables and community areas. They replaced it with this monstrosity of a bar, topped with some fake black laminate and a brass edge that cut my arm when I leaned on it.

I…. don’t get it.

And they surrounded that with curved walls covered in what looks to my uneducated eye like shiny white bathroom tile.

Sort of suburban mall food court meets corporate park.

I’m telling you, it looks like bathroom tile.

This was not what I had envisioned when I imagined popping down to the Factory for a $16 cocktail.

I hate it.

I tried to temper my reaction with the fact that I hate everything that changes at first. Change is good. I like it. But it’s hard and I also don’t like it. It takes some adjusting to a new reality. So I am trying to look at it for what it is, not for what it isn’t anymore.

It’s just that I don’t see how what they’ve done is an improvement. I’m ok with change if they take something lesser and make it something more. Even “different” is ok as long as it’s a parallel different. But “uglier” and “more useless” is not something I typically enjoy.

I remember a few years ago some brilliant soul painted the water tower in front of the Factory from a rust-red to a grass-green. Half the town flipped out. Why? Because rust red goes with the factory aesthetic, sort of a factory/farmhouse vibe. Green was a weird color.

Eventually they painted it back, but it gives you an idea of what the property was.

The iconic water tower in its original color, currently painted anew and with a freakishly modern logo replacing the original sign.

The coffee shop that we stopped into yesterday wasn’t a brilliant space, but it was a coffee shop. It was dim and crowded with wooden tables and chairs. It had walls of brick covered in vining plants. The counters were wood and rugged looking.

They played music too loud and it was too cold but you kind of expect that. We worked there often, on a big table in the back, behind some bookshelves that made it cozy. Sometimes other people would sit at the table with us because it was big enough. Sometimes you struck up a little conversation.

Then someone decided the place was getting an overhaul and merged it with a juice company because if there’s one thing that goes with coffee, it’s a bottle of kale.

They expanded the space to at least twice its size while simultaneously eliminating half of the seating so now everyone who wants a table is crammed into one half of one half of the original space, while the rest is dedicated to this enormous “bar” area, which is a complete misnomer because all it is is a glorified counter. There is no seating, there is nothing useful or interesting about it. It is a gigantic slab of shiny white – white! – marble, which… don’t even get me started.

I’m not an interior designer, and I can barely match my shirt to my socks. But even I can see that this bathroom-counter-looking marble does not remotely go with the aesthetic of a coffee shop, let alone one that is otherwise in a FACTORY that is full of old crooked wooden tables.

Some brilliant mind took all the old stuff – every last wooden table and chair (except the big one we used to like), even the worst of the worst of them which has a slope in the center so you literally can’t even put your coffee cup down on it without spilling it – and wedged it all on one side of the room, while the rest is slapped with shiny white marble.

Did someone have a cousin who does bathroom remodels? I can’t wrap my head around how so much of what they did to the entire factory looks like the inside of a bathroom.

The people doing this remodel made such a tremendous deal out of how they wanted to honor the character of the place. Such lip service to history and preservation. And it’s like they came in with a backhoe and plowed everything that used to be there into a corner and said ok, there you go! History!

This old cool stove that used to be on display is now – I kid you not – wedged sideways into a hole in a wall with a sign proudly proclaiming its origin.

Beyond the sheer discordance of the marble, the “bar” in the coffee shop is as oversized for its space as the one in the central food court is. I mean, it takes up well over half of the useable space for literally no reason. Do you know where the four guys making coffee were? All crammed into one corner on one side where their machines and cash register were.

Oh, and the juice? Ten bucks per eight ounce bottle in a refrigerator like you’d see at a supermarket or a gas station. They don’t even MAKE it for you. They make it and bottle it and charge you ten bucks.

This is their effort to “keep the character”.

What might have made sense is if someone added more to their food menu than the one stale scone they sometimes sold. How about maybe a little coffee cake or muffin action? How about, oh, I don’t know, a whole tea menu? Not just the two bland bagged teas they have always had.

No. They did none of that. They still sell the same crummy coffee and the same cardboard flavored breakfast tea and the same single scone.

I mean, why don’t they just put in a Starbucks?

At least I can afford the juice there.

Meet “Rusty”. He was made from discarded parts after the factory closed operations and still stands sentinel. It is the aesthetic and the sensibility that, in my opinion, should have been preserved.

So who was at the mall? Suburban moms wearing their crocs with their gaggles of screaming kids.

This is what the coffee shop is now.

It is no longer a place we can grab our laptops and go work for a couple of hours. It is a mall where moms with seven kids under seven can afford to stay home and take their kids out to buy ten dollar bottles of juice on any given Wednesday afternoon.

Just. Wow.

In my brain where I imagined these things, I had hoped that having a bar and some new restaurants and a bigger coffee shop would be a cool thing. I mean, the place is a mile down the road. How much would I love to go and grab something to eat, have a drink, have a place to hang out?

I did not anticipate it being turned into a suburban mall food court, inside a factory, which they honored the history of by gutting it and putting a few of the broken pieces into a corner.

All we need is a Chick-fil-A and the picture will be complete.

And do you know what they are building across the street from the Factory?

They’re building, if you believe the plans, an entire city on seven acres. OF HISTORICAL PROPERTY.

Somehow the developers got permission to build a commercial enterprise with apartments and condos and markets and boutiques and common areas and “scattered potted trees and soothing water features”, I am not making this up, on a historically preserved space.

AND they got permission to build above the town’s previous limit of four stories. They’re going all the way up to six, because if there is one thing a town that is so bent on its history needs, it’s a six story condo right smack in the middle of it.

They’re calling it “The Factory District.”

I mean, do they not teach irony in English class anymore? These people wouldn’t know a factory if it fell down on their head, people who can afford to live there in their 1800 square-foot million-dollar condos across the street from a marble bathroom bar and ten dollar juice in plastic bottles.

Some people fought the development. They wanted to actually preserve the historical character of the town. They weren’t even saying DON’T build, they were just saying how about we don’t go up six stories and maybe think for a second about what will happen to the flooding that already happens when you build your underground garage.

They lost with flying colors.

Why am I so mad about this?

Because it doesn’t make anything better. It detracts from the entire reason I loved it here in the first place and literally minuses out all my reasons for coming.

I mean have you seen Nashville? It is the worst excuse for urban engineering I have ever witnessed in my life. And that is what’s happening here. Nobody gives a flying green water tower about historical preservation or quality of life. Nobody cares if it takes you 30 minutes to get to the supermarket five miles away.

They are chasing the almighty profit, at the cost of literally everything else.

Some people like this.

I have seen plenty of people rave about omg how great is this space!!! I suspect they are used to marble bathroom bars because that’s all they know.

Some factory stuff that has since been ripped down and replaced with solar panels. Hooray for environmentalism?

Here’s the thing about the Factory. It was a lot of dead space. I get it. There is no question it needed to change. They needed new vendors, new retailers, new places to eat. Someone, no doubt, needed to make more money.

The other thing about the Factory is that it was a factory. It had silos and catwalks and smokestacks and corrugated metal buildings and brickwork and thick-paned glass and a patchwork of cement floors. It had a rugged sort of charming, industrial-chic aesthetic. I loved it.

And now I don’t.

Ralph tells me it doesn’t matter. That we won’t go there anyway and there are other things we’ll be doing, other places we’ll be going. I don’t disagree, but I can be sad about it.

I can be sad about the fact that another piece of culture has been homogenized. I can spend five minutes mourning what could have been if there wasn’t a sale on surplus white marble tiles.

And maybe it doesn’t matter and in five more minutes I will wish I never mentioned it. But for now, after probably too many words, I will just say goodbye to the Factory and the charm I loved. It was nice knowing you.

Photo: a no-longer-existing catwalk above where the food court is now. But at least the cool glass remains.