Mill 1 at Open Square Offers Charm of Yesteryear
Taste of HistoryLast year, Holyoke Medical Center transformed the event space in Mill 1 at Open Square into a winter wonderland for its annual holiday party.
Sparkling Christmas trees stretched toward the exposed beams on the room’s 12-foot ceiling, evergreen boughs nestled in deep windowsills that flank both sides of the room, and birch bark was wrapped around decorative centerpieces on every tabletop.
“It was beautiful. But you really don’t have to do much to this space to make it look amazing,” said Mill 1 Sales and Communications Director Maggie Bergin, adding that the natural elements in the building give the room character. “People really enjoy the atmosphere created by the exposed brick walls and gleaming maple floors. They set the stage for a holiday party, wedding, conference, or family gathering, while creating a stunning, neutral backdrop that can be customized to reflect almost any style. There is a quality to the construction that lends an elegance to events.”
Mill 1 is one of six buildings in Holyoke that make up the complex known as Open Square. It was a former paper mill, and architect and principal John Aubin began revitalizing the 19th-century structures in 2000.
Today, they contain office, retail, and light-industrial storage space, as well as the event space he carefully designed five years ago.
The impetus to create that area came from a confluence of factors: Pearl Bridal Boutique had opened in 2008 on the first floor, a liquor license was obtained for the café in the spacious first-floor lobby, and Bergin had been receiving frequent calls from people who loved the ambience of the renovated complex and wanted to know if Open Square had space that could be rented for an event.
She noted that 90% of the businesses in the complex are in Mill 4, and since the first floor of Mill 1 was focused on retail operations, it seemed like a natural place for Aubin to put his creative artistry to work. “He designed a custom bar made from cypress taken from an old, wooden water tank on top of the building. John tries to reuse elements in the buildings while giving them a modern look, so he had it dismantled and turned into a bar with pendant lighting and a matching liquor cabinet.”
The maple ceilings, beams, and brick walls were sandblasted, and the floors, which date back to 1846 when the mill was built, were refinished. In addition, a modern heating and cooling system was installed, and a partial wall was built toward the back of the space, which draws attention to the area often designated as a dance floor.
About 40 events were held there last year, ranging from corporate holiday parties, weddings, and fund-raising events to a lavish, 50th birthday celebration and a bat mitzvah.The spacious lobby serves as an ideal spot for cocktail hours and a display of large panels titled “Between the Canals: The Evolution of a Mill Town,” created by Enchanted Circle Theater for a production of the same name, adds to the historic feel.
“We are also conveniently located — just a short distance from I-91, I-391, and Route 141,” Bergin said, adding that Mill 1 has parking for about 150 vehicles and is handicapped-accessible.
Menu of Choices
When the space first opened, people had to hire their own caterers. “But it was one more thing for them to do, so last year we began looking for a local partner,” Bergin said.
They teamed up with Kevin Sahagian, who owns Captain Jack’s Roadside Shack in Easthampton and Electric Café and Catering. He told BusinessWest he takes pride in the fact that he uses ingredients and produce from local farms, and offers a full range of options that includes buffets, formal sit-down dinners, and cocktail hours with hors d’oeuvres.
Sahagian said a growing number of businesses are choosing holiday parties centered around food stations, which allow people to mix and mingle as they move from one station to the next.
“Clients can select our imported and domestic cheese display that features wild mushroom paté with buttery croustades, or our vindaloo hummus with Armenian flatbread crisp. There are also seasonal options, such as butternut squash pakoras, turkey fennel meatballs with maple dijon dipping sauce, or roasted brussel-sprout chips,” he said. “Our menu includes traditional ethnic stations with Italian, Southern, and Asian offerings, but for more adventurous partygoers, we have a whiskey-rueben and root-beer station with petite corned-beef sandwiches, kosher pickles, potato-scallion pancakes, beer-braised brats, and kielbasa.”
Signature cocktails are also available, including a pomegranate rosemary punch and bloody marys created by partygoers at a bloody mary-cocktail shrimp station. Sahagian explained that guests can make their own cocktail and garnish it with shrimp, or simply enjoy the shrimp and cocktail sauce on its own.
“Buffet and plated dinners are always available, and a sample seasonal menu could include a salad of tempura parsnips tossed with mustard greens, creamy gruyere potatoes, port-wine-and-prune-braised brisket, and cider-doughnut bread pudding,” he suggested.
In addition to the food, Bergin added, Mill 1 prides itself on the quality of its linens, glassware, and silverware. However, decorating the space is left to the clients.
“We host quite a few weddings and during the holiday season, and many people put up Christmas trees as part of their décor,” she said, adding that Mill 1’s website contains a list of preferred vendors for those who don’t want to do their own decorating, or who need services like photographers, florists, live music, and more.
History and Tradition
Mill 1 has become a popular place to stage annual corporate holiday parties and other gatherings, and clients have included Veritech IT, the Jewish Federation of Springfield, O’Connell Development, and the Greater Holyoke YMCA, which held a fund-raiser in the space.
Traditions are created when companies return, but Open Square is a place where the past meets the present, Bergin said. “We are the only private operator left on the canal system generating our own electricity, which powers all of our buildings.
“People drive by these old mills and say they wish someone would do something with them. Well, we are here, we have done something, and we love this,” she continued. “When you have a party here, you are participating in the rebirth of Holyoke by actively supporting the city’s businesses and the reuse of a century-old, amazing building on its canals.”