COLUMBIA, Tenn. (WTVF) — After decades as a shirt and later cardboard factory, the Factory at Columbia emerged as a popular marketplace and gathering place in Columbia, Tennessee.
"We were down the street about three blocks from here selling antiques out of the big warehouse. Heard this building might become available...walked in, saw the building and went, 'I want to buy this building.' Struck up a deal with the owner. We struck a deal in about 10 minutes and closed six months later," explained The Factory at Columbia Owner Darrell Lynn.
"When I bought it, a lot of people thought I was crazy," recounted Lynn. "I went to the city council to get the zoning change from industrial. It was zoned heavy industrial. It was built in 1951."
Lynn and his wife own an antique company and planned to use the building as a warehouse for their antiques. "We're the largest import importer of European antiques out of Brussels, Copenhagen and Stockholm," he said.
But the plan quickly evolved when locals started calling wanting to rent space in the warehouse.
"We quickly started getting asked for space. So we started building out space. Then we had a vision of, ‘Let's make it a factory. Let's make three city streets of shopping.’ So that we started having tenants come in and building spaces out for them," explained Lynn. "We filled up pretty quick, but it took about a year, year and a half to really select the community that we wanted within the building that works well together."
Some of the tenants include a mercantile, a yoga studio, a woodworking company, a lemonade stand run by a teenager and a tea company.
"Our community within the building is an eclectic community that resembles Columbia," said Lynn.
Nashville Tea Company Owner Diane Sheets was one of Lynn's first tenants.
"We had our grand opening two weeks before COVID hit. But we are still here and that really speaks to the support of the small people of small businesses here in the Columbia community and especially here at the factory," she said.
She lived in the area for several years before opening her business.
"The downtown [Columbia] area has really morphed and changed and exploded. And with the development of this property, which is fairly near to the downtown area, it's sort of become its own thing," explained Sheets. "We want people to come and just sit and relax and then with all the shopping that we have here, it's just—I don't know, it's just a nice place where people can come and enjoy each other and connect and have new experiences. It's really wonderful."
Lynn explained transplants to the area seem to enjoy the spot in droves.
"Most are from California, Chicago, New York, New Jersey, Florida. They're all moving here," said Lynn. "And they all are thrilled to find a community like this. They love downtown. Everyone loves downtown Columbia as I do as well and it's a great place to shop and a great place to visit. We are just a half a mile off the beaten path. And it's just a peaceful place to come and enjoy."
One woman told NewsChannel 5 before The Factory at Columbia opened, she felt she had to drive to Franklin to meet her friends but now The Factory is her "happy place."
"It was the public shirt factory. Publix was out of New York, not Publix grocery store, but Publix a shirt factory and then they ended up going out of business and merging a number of times but in the 80s and then that's when it converted to American cardboard. And it was just as one huge 71,000 square foot building." explained Lynn.
The vast amount of space allows for galas, corporate events, bridal shows and space as well as a stage to be a music venue. Friday was The Factory at Columbia's first big music event.
"Friday night was a family-friendly event. Kids were here. People brought blankets and their lawn chairs, although inside," explained Lynn. "We had about 300 chairs, but we didn't have quite enough to cover the crowd that we had."
Lynn said that concert was the first of many The Factory plans to host in addition to children's movie nights.
"It's amazing. Four years ago, none of this was around here...I've could have never guessed it would have grown this fast...If we had more space we could double this building now. We have that many people wanting space but we just don't have the space," said Lynn. "It's a place to be it's the place to be. It's growing. It's the fastest growing County in Tennessee in 2021. And we've seen it within this building is a just a small, a small piece of what's going on in the total community...Come to Colombia. You'll be shocked."
For a full list of events and vendors, visit The Factory at Columbia's website, Facebookor Instagrampages.