Strip malls are a ubiquitous part of life, a blur of neon colored fast food and chain retailers on the byways to Anywhere, USA. But this is Providence, and Providence doesn’t do ubiquitous. Case in point: Armory Revival Company’s new string of storefronts at 425 West Fountain Street.
“You’ve got your parking in front, but it’s not a Subway next to a FedEx Office,” says Armory co-founder Mark Van Noppen. “It’s not your typical suburban strip.”
Take the strip’s first tenant, DownCity Design, a non-profit that works with Providence youth to conceptualize and implement architectural improvements for public spaces. Until moving into 425 West Fountain, DownCity’s teams would take their equipment into schools and retrofit art rooms and science classes into temporary workshops. Now they have a functional space to invite students who are interested in design-build programs.
DownCity has been there since 2014, temporarily occupying the storefront closest to West Fountain’s cobblestone streets while Armory worked to tailor their permanent home at the opposite end into the working shop they need, complete with small office, a learning space and a separate workshop in the back.
“When we came here it was an empty, raw space,” says co-founder Adrienne Gagnon. “Luckily, so many of the people we work with are architects. They immediately saw the possibility of it built out.”
During that time the other five storefronts received the same custom treatment, and the exterior of the building got an attractive new paint job from Buck Hastings and Providence Painted Signs. “We’ve been watching as it went from this big, empty garage space to getting to know our neighbors,” says Adrienne.
The other businesses run the gamut from urban cycling outerwear designer Cleverhood and brewery startup Long Live Beerworks to the zen and martial arts space, City Aiki, indoor cycling studio Devine City Cycles and a restaurant, The Slow Rhode.
“I’ve always felt like this is an exciting part of town and you definitely feel the energy for business,” says Cleverhood owner, Susan Mocarski. “I like the quirky mix. It’s so classically Rhode Island.”
Cleverhood, whose rain capes landed at the top of Forbes’ holiday gift list in 2013 and have products available in retail locations around the world, hosted an opening party at their new headquarters/design space at West Fountain in late November, filling their space with 200 guests. Many of them were local business owners and employees, which Mark and his partners at Armory Revival saw not just as a testament to the supportive business community in Providence, but to the neighborhood’s continued evolution.
“People are attracted to this side of town because of its quality – its diversity, its creativity, its affordability,” says Mark. “It’s an interesting place, and what you get are businesses that are attracted to that.”