Over the past twenty years Flemington, New Jersey, formerly an agriculturally based town, has seen a decrease in mom and pop shops and an upswing in the building of mega-stores and strip malls, chain restaurants and parking lots. However, a second shift is starting to take place. Particularly with the renovation of the Stangl pottery factory, more visitors are returning to Main Street Flemington and patronizing the entire downtown area. Once again, there is an interest in supporting local businesses even if it means paying a little bit more. Energy is returning to the area with more shops and businesses appealing to a younger crowd. For many years, stores in Flemington borough were closing one after another, being boarded up and left vacant. These store fronts are welcoming adventurous entrepreneurs and filling the town with visitors each weekend. With growing interest surrounding local food and craft, there is renewed hope that downtown Flemington will again be a flourishing business hub in Hunterdon County.
The Stangl factory was a production facility for both Hill and Fulper pottery from 1814-1929, first producing earthenware utilitarian items such as pipes and jars, and later moving to a more artistic focus. When the original building burned down in Flemington, production continued at another Trenton location and the Stangl factory of Flemington became a widely popular factory outlet for the company’s stone wear goods. During the 1940s, Stangl became and international name in carved and hand painted dinner wear, bringing shoppers from all over to come get great deals at the Flemington outlet store. It was one of the biggest names in pottery. By November 1978, Stangl Factory ceased manufacturing and closed permanently. However, the Flemington Factory remained intact and was used as an outlet for Pfaltzgraf pottery, unaffiliated with Stangl pottery, for many years. After the building was purchased by three investors in 2011, the same investors currently renovating the Union Hotel on Main St, the Stangl Factory underwent a $500,000 restoration to become a multi-use gallery and retail space all while preserving the building’s character and charm. The investors want to make Flemington a shopping destination once again, and by renovating the Stangl pottery factory for retail use, attention is being drawn to the completion of the Union Hotel project in the next few years.
Blending old and new, the Stangl factory demonstrates appreciation for the past and a desire to innovate for the future. The former production facility is now a multi-purpose space that is home to the Blue Fish Grill, Factory Fuel Coffee Co., SOMI fine art, Blue Sky Boutique, and Kissimmee River Pottery. Blue Fish Grill got its start just a block away from its current location, and has been a community favorite since it opened in 2003. Featuring a variety of flavors from Latin to Thai, Blue Fish brings in large crowds every day of the week, seating up to 500 guests throughout a Saturday night. As a BYOB establishment, guests can bring their own wine or beer, or purchase bottles of local Old York Cellars wine to pair with their meal. Patrons can wander next door to Factory Fuel Co. an organic coffee shop located to the left of Blue Fish Grill, both owned and operated by Flemington’s Stacey and Kelly Casanova. Fuel features original cement floors with modern steel and aqua colored leather accents, executing an industrial-chic decor with ease. In the center of the shop is an old brick kiln that is outfitted with seating that creates a unique experience for coffee lovers. Factory Fuel does not make frilly flavored lattes, but if you are looking for an expertly crafted cortado, this is the place to visit. Mexican hot chocolate is a popular choice if you’re craving something sweet. While the Stangl factory hosts a variety of creative and thriving businesses within its walls, other organizations and community initiatives in the vicinity of downtown Flemington have also felt a surge in interest surrounding local endeavors since the Stangl Factory opened its doors once again.
Multiple establishments within a two-block radius of the factory are thriving. A new bakery called Green Sleeves located right outside of Liberty Village not only sells baked goods and farm-to-table café items, but also sustainable crafts made by local artists. Green Sleeves is operated by Allies, Inc., a non-profit organization that helps developmentally disabled adults find housing, healthcare, meaningful employment, and recreation opportunities within the community. Daytime program organizer Matt Polston shares what he loves most about working for Allies, Inc., at Green Sleeves, “I think my favorite part about working here is understanding that interacting with the consumers in a positive way provides them [people with disabilities] with a social experience that they likely would not otherwise get outside of going to a day program.” This Bakery has become much more than just a place to purchase cookies, lattes, paninis, and cakes. It is now a place where people in the larger community can interact with individuals with special needs in a positive and supportive way. Polston adds, “I don’t think people are as exposed to significant developmental differences as they should be and that leads to misconceptions and the development of social stigma that can negatively impact the lives of those individuals with developmental disabilities.” Green Sleeves sources many of their ingredients from the Allies Inc., Project Growth farm which also employs disabled adults. This establishment, located directly across from Turntable junction in downtown Flemington, offers vocational training and environmental stewardship education to people with special needs in the community. Its prime location benefits from weekend shopping traffic, and Green Sleeves is spreading a positive message through Flemington by not only providing education and employment to people with special needs, but by doing so sustainably by using locally grown fruits and vegetables.
It is important for community development to not only thrive financially, but also socially. In addition to the permanent businesses established in Stangl, there is also an art gallery housing works from local painters, ceramicists, and sculptors, and an open room used for a farmer’s market on Saturday mornings. The farmer’s market hosts vendors from all different industries, including local farmers, soap makers, candle crafters and fiber artists. On Main Street, a youth-run public art space was opened in a retail space owned by the township. 90 Main is a judgment- free zone where local artists can display their work, where members of the community can attend film screenings and listen to local bands play. As downtown Flemington thrives with the redevelopment of the Stangl factory, there is a newfound appreciation for locally sourced and produced goods, and the positive ways in which coming together as a community can have positive impacts on the lives of everyone who gets involved.