Brick-and-mortar department stores were gasping for air before the pandemic hit, and their demise has only dramatically increased since then. By all indications, they may go the route of the dinosaurs. Even putting them on the endangered species list won’t help.
So, then how is it that, in a quiet Cumberland County town like Carlisle, perhaps one of the last of its kind is leaving such an outsized footprint of innovation, imagination and intoxication at 164 N. Hanover St.? Perhaps because it is unlike anything that resembles a “typical” department store? It all began in 1918 after the Great War ended. What once housed a Montgomery Ward and Co. department store today is helping to breathe new life into a dying breed. Historic landmark buildings like the Carlisle Ribbon Mill, also built that year, as well as this nod to yesteryear and tomorrow, were built to become lasting treasures in Carlisle. That was over a century ago.
Leave it to the retailers of tomorrow, the youth to dream up a behemoth of a store over 40,000 square feet of space in creating a throwback to yesteryear, selling what’s old and making it new again at the department store for the future, the Carlisle Antique Mall (CAM). Richard and Tiffany Lawson, novices of the retail world, only a year ago dreamed an impossible dream, bringing their visionary and revolutionary idea to life.
They opened the doors in 2020 to a downtown district that today is lining up in droves for this retail life-saving shot in the arm. Antiquities have always held a special place in the heart of shoppers, and the pivot brought on by the pandemic with life-changing force has only fueled the longing for things of the past that evoke nostalgia. Four filled floors of treasures comprise the interior of CAM (interior display pictured). Venturing forth, you will come upon art, vintage clothing, upcycled furniture, primitive decor, mid-century antiques, a wide range of “boho” estate jewelry and industrial décor, as well as shabby chic home furnishings and more—lest we leave out a massive collection of vinyl records to spin.
The best part is what awaits right around the bend. Even the basement is full of surprises. Over 60 vendors specializing in collectibles create a retail mise-en-scene that the Lawsons curate to perfection. Case in point is a section devoted to French provincial furniture. Shabby Chic by Susan was an established Carlisle business started in 2013, operating out of a quaint cottage off of Pomfret Street. Susan Ewing, proprietress, moved it to its present habitué as part of CAM and is thrilled with the foot traffic “the mall generates.” Recently, she commandeered a front window display at “the mall” for their spring open house, “Blushes and Blooms,” held over a weekend in mid-April that showcased her offerings. Over 1,000 visitors and shoppers attended the two-day event, which featured wine tastings and slushies by the Winery at Long Shot Farm and spirits from Carlisle’s own Hook and Flask Still Works. Special events throughout the year create buzz and bring shoppers in the door with an ever changing array of antiques.
The Lawsons are ready to unveil the latest addition to CAM, which entails the opening of a year-round indoor flea market on Saturdays from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m., starting May 15 and taking place in their adjacent 20,000-square-foot warehouse. This promises excitement year round and more opportunities to help with the revitalization of downtown Carlisle as a shopper’s dream destination. CAM is poised to become a juggernaut of jubilation for the boro in the hopes that all businesses will benefit from increased foot traffic to the downtown sector. New and established businesses are creating quite a stir from Denim Coffee to Grand Illusion Hard Cider, as well Pat Craig Studios and The Penny Gallery at the Pond, along with the recently moved Miss Ruth’s Time Bomb on Hanover, the same block as CAM.
In operation on nearby High Street are perennials like The ClothesVine, the Hamilton Restaurant and Whistlestop Bookshop. Restaurants close by like the landmark Market Cross Pub, North Hanover Grille and Redd’s Smokehouse BBQ send customers back and forth and across the street with everyone gaining traction in an area that is known as a grand farming community and county seat, Carlisle. All the more remarkable that this country idyll is experiencing a renaissance the likes of which harkens back to the heyday of retail from the 1950s to ‘80s, when downtown was jumping. The revitalization efforts by all downtown merchants speak to a future that echoes Carlisle’s glory days.
Coming up in June, after the indoor flea opens in May, CAM is anticipating its one-year anniversary “Summer Open House” on June 20, just six weeks away. At the heart of the Carlisle Antique Mall’s mission is to bring shoppers downtown, so all of Carlisle wins. There is magic underway in the three main shopping districts comprised of Hanover, High and Pomfret streets. All three offer something unique but unifying, together creating excitement that is contagious.
Until we meet again, “Happy Trails” to you, and when searching for that special piece, you will more than likely unearth it just like paleontologists discovering a rare dinosaur bone. The Carlisle Antique Mall may have a vendor for those, too.
PS: I am still in Carlisle by choice, but “I’m working my back to you, babe (Midtown) with a burning love inside”…
Millworks Spring II – All That Jazz At The Millworks
Now, three artists, painters all, lend their brushes to adorn the wall. This jazz trio of female artists each brings something special to the mix, awe-inspired with different tricks. But isn’t that precisely what jazz is intended to do in the first place? Surprise plays a large part of the appeal in that music genre, as well as in painting.
Tami Bitner dives deep, like to the ocean floor, in serving up a palette of rich and lustrous tones like jewels that one may find as buried treasure. Deeply saturated shades conjure up gemstones. Even gold as a finish joins this free-flowing family of colors. Bitner paints with acrylics (pictured), often employing a cold wax process, which imparts body, transparency and depth to the paint. Texture is tantamount to the finished presentation, and she is a master at creating drama through weaving composition polyphonically. All that jazz. In Studio 210, Tami takes great pride in developing her “non-objective art.” She is also a charter member of the “Mixed Media Art Group” and has shown her paintings at the Millworks since it opened in the winter of 2015.
Kelly McGee Curran resides in Studio 216. She borrows a line from the Beatles when wistfully longing for “places I’ll remember all my life though some have changed…some forever, not for better; some have gone and some remain.” Curran is able to conjure those places in pastoral paintings of nature and landscapes (pictured) as filtered through her mind’s eye. Somehow languid and lush at the same time, scenes of trees in a field or a forest by the river evoke a pure sense of beauty unvarnished from this heart of a painterly poet. She “pines” those memories on slabs of wood, often diffused through knots that transport her dreams and visions. Equally skilled as an artist of stained glass creations, Curran creates faceted fragments to filter the light of the seasons changing before you. Channeling her Native heritage, Kelly imparts those customs and rituals in enchanted walks with tribal elders that have handed down their wisdom and ways to share through her paintings.
Reina Wooden (R76) cannot be contained in space or time. A force to be reckoned with, this art activist operates on platforms of social discourse from racial injustice to the #MeToo movement and any cause that she feels to be unjust. A voice, powerful in her artistic presentation, comes from deep within and finds its visual focus on the canvases that populate her works. Dramatic in their viewpoint, often the “elements” end up amplifying her mixed media art like “crowns and circled eyes.” The artist states, “Circles in my artwork represent the rings of a tree, an age, a moment, a story.” As an outsider artist, she is a rule-breaker with no contractual obligation to fit into a certain prescribed format. She uses her art to heal and inspire others, especially today’s youth. “We are kings not slaves” paintings serve notice to the atrocities of the past with an eye to promote positive change for the future. Black Lives Matter is central to her core being as she strongly identifies with hope and dialogue as needed to build a bridge for tomorrow. No matter the subject, her work is always topical and timely. Wooden and her powerful art can be viewed at Millworks Studio 318.
These artists’ works are now available on the menu and can be found prominently displayed on the main lobby wall at the establishment through May 16.
***Extra, extra, read all about it! Millworks Spring edition Odd Ones Bizarre Saturday, May 8, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Come out to the grassy lot at the corner of N. 3rd and Verbeke for a DJ spinning, Millworks beer, bagatelle and bon vivants (rain date Saturday, May 15).
“Arts in the Park” at Reservoir Park takes place Saturday, May 15, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., with artists and vendors.
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