WHEN AMY CHASE was going to school for interior design in Worcester, she would drive by the old Crompton Loom Works every day on her way to school. The historic brick mill building was in disrepair, its windows boarded up, but she felt drawn to it.
Ten years ago, she drove by the Canal District building and saw that the boards had been removed.
“Oh my God,” she thought. “It’s even more beautiful than I remember.”
She stopped, pulled over, and went inside. She was walking around (“being nosy”) and taking in the empty space when she ran into the landlord, Dino Lorusso. He told her that he envisioned a cafe, an antique store, and other small shops in the space.
“That’s amazing,” Chase said. “What can I do to help?”
“Who are you?” Lorusso asked.
“I live nearby,” Chase replied. “And I just love this building.”
Her love for the building now comes through in the Crompton Collective, a boutique market curated by Chase on the first floor of the Crompton build- ing. Half the space is filled by antique booths, which feel like miniature stores themselves, each decorated in the vendor’s style. The other half is stocked with handmade goods created by local artisans.
You are drawn into the space before you enter. A glance through the open doors shows the sparkle of a sequined clutch, the smooth wood of an antique drafting table. Although the space is filled with clothes and furniture and jewelry and coffee mugs, there is no overwhelming feeling of clutter. If you don’t love one display, you can move on to the next. Because the Collective is stocked by a variety of different vendors, it’s a patchwork of styles, materials, and colors.
However, the Crompton Collective has become more than just a place to buy a cute card or a hat.
“I have a hard time explaining what it is, but we’re so much more than a store,” Chase, who was born and raised in Worcester, said. “We’re a gathering place, a community center, a museum with stuff you can buy.”
The space, which initially felt too big for her to fill, is now not big enough to accommodate everyone who wants to sell with her. When she first started, she called up friends to be her first vendors. Now, she has a waiting list of 570 people who want to sell their goods at the Crompton Collective.
As the Collective gained success, Chase continued to expand its scope. She opened the White Room, an event space adjacent to the Collective that has hosted weddings for Worcester high school sweethearts and a campaign stop for Hillary Clinton alike. She helped the Canal District Business Association start a farmers market. Earlier this year, she opened a second shop in nearby Hudson, Massachusetts.
On an average Saturday, the farmers market is bustling outside the Crompton building. People wander into the Crompton Collective from the market or after picking up a coffee from the BirchTree Bread Company the floor above. Amy’s dad, who was also born and raised in Worcester, has appointed himself the store’s weekend greeter and farmers market helper. He has made himself a nametag with the farmers market logo (designed by one of Chase’s vendors) and his name, Ralph, in all capital letters. He spends his Saturday morning helping the farmers unload their produce, but he remembers when the Canal District wasn’t full of fresh greens and young families.
“This area had been on a steady decline since the ‘70s,” he said. “When they built I-290, it separated the city, like putting a highway through a farm. It changed the culture.” His daughter’s work is helping shift the area in a positive direction. Because it’s more than just a store, the Crompton Collective has become an anchor to the neighborhood. Ralph has seen shoppers become newlyweds in the White Room. Local politicians and nonprofits use the space for community events.
The city of Worcester has noticed, too. Chase was recognized on the Worcester Business Journal’s 40 Under Forty list and as Retailer of the Year by the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce. In 2015, Worcester Magazine named the Crompton Collective best gift shop and the White Room best wedding venue.
“She treats former President Clinton the same way she treats the homeless man down the street,” Ralph said. “I think that fairness is part of what makes her so successful.” Although her success now feels inevitable, it is the product of Chase’s hard work — who, in turn, is a product of the hard-working city of Worcester. Except for a brief stint in Boston running a company that organized clothing swap parties, Chase has lived in Worcester her whole life. She sold the company in 2012 and returned to her hometown.
Her initial plan to take a year off failed after a month. She was itching to start another business. She went back to the landlord, Lorusso, who offered her the first floor space. She started installing lights on July 26 and informed him she would open on September 1. She was in the Crompton building 18 hours a day, painting the walls, arranging the space, building shelving. “That’s just the way I always was,” she says matter-of-factly. “My parents are really hard workers, and I think that’s probably where I get it from. We like to keep busy, we like to work, we’re very hands on.”
The building also has a history of hard work. The Crompton Loom Works building is a block-long brick complex that was built in 1860, making it one of the oldest surviving industrial sites in Worcester. It was established by George Crompton, whose father, William, had invented the power loom, which drove Worcester’s textile industry. Crompton and his successors produced fabrics from the building until 1915.
A century later, when Chase first opened the Crompton Collective, she felt alone as a young business owner, but that has recently changed. She can now rattle off a list of stores – the people that own the bakery, the people that are opening all the restaurants, the girl that opened the cupcake shop, and another that opened the hair salon – that are all run by people her age.
“We’re all from the same generation,” she said, “and we’ve latched on to each other. We’re going to be friends, we’re going to help each other, we’re going to succeed, we’re going to do this.”
For Laura Dimmick and her husband, who moved to Worcester two years ago, the Crompton building is part of their weekend routine. They have bought a bookshelf, pine-scented candles, and countless gifts.
“We always take our out-of-town guests here,” she said. “It’s a prime place to spend a day.”
Chase and the Crompton Collective have helped make the Canal District a destination, and she is confident that the momentum will continue. “I think Worcester is filled with a lot of young, talented people who want to do something awesome and want to change the city,” she said. “It’s a great time for Worcester.