June 20, 2016
Worcester Focus

Destination Creation at Worcester's Crompton Place

Dino Lorusso, who owns Crompton Place, has been very selective in who he places in the building.
Avra Hoffman, Birch Tree’s general manager and co-owner, said all the businesses work together to support one another and pull in more customers.
Amy Chase of Crompton Collective has expanded into hosting events and weddings with the support of Lorusso.

Crompton Place has a long history that reaches back to its manufacturing past as the Crompton Loom Works, but most Worcester residents now associate the property in the heart of Worcester's Canal District with locally-made goods, a bay-windowed bakery and coffee shop, gift and home décor shops, and an event space.This transition from manufacturing to retail-heavy mixed use did not happen overnight and is the result of very deliberate actions on the part of property owner Dino Lorusso and his anchor tenant Amy Chase of Crompton Collective. The momentum continues for the property with Crompton Place recently securing the popular gift and plant store Seed to Stem and an adjacent property is being eyed for mixed-use development.

The momentum is not important only for the property itself, but it has played a part in boosting the ongoing revitalization of the Canal District as it moves from night-life hub to retail and dining destination and is wrapping in more housing. It is a model that Tim McGourthy, executive director of Worcester Research Bureau, feels could be successful in the effort to rebuild downtown Worcester and in many of the numerous mill and historic properties around the city that have been left vacant since the decline in Worcester's manufacturing economy.

Lorusso purchased the building in 2007 for $1.3 million after owning an adjacent property. He went to work not only fixing up the building but also fixing his sights on tenants that would help build his vision for mixed-use retail and residential. Ultimately, he wanted to build up a neighborhood feel that had been a huge part of his childhood.

Key to that equation would be Chase, who was at the time looking for space to open up a small boutique after selling off a successful business. When Lorusso approached her with an idea for a marketplace model selling antiques and locally-crafted items, it did not take long before Chase was sold on the idea and opened Crompton Collective in 2013.

"He is a great landlord, and he has helped me do whatever I want to pursue," said Chase.

A building brand

"We would let them in under a rent roll that was very different than what they would find somewhere else," Wade said. "We wanted to fill up the building, but we had an emotional attraction to these businesses."

It took time, but Crompton Collective and Crompton Place began riding a rising reputation as a destination within the city and even Massachusetts as Chase made us of the long reach of social media.

Crompton Collective helped build a brand for the entire property that created a destination retail location, said Allen Fletcher, the first vice president of the neighborhood group Canal District Alliance, and that momentum began to snowball.

"[Dino] has succeeded in creating a cluster that becomes a destination retail complex. Individual retail had a hard time surviving," Fletcher said. "Retail is difficult unless it's destination retail that will get someone to come off the highway and come in."

Crompton Place now boasts a mix of shopping, service-based businesses and offices with six apartments and 18 planned in the next phase of Lorusso's development.

All this success was built on the back of a brand that Crompton Collective helped create for the building that accentuates a relaxed lifestyle for those with expendable income, said Fletcher, who is pursuing a mixed-use development in the adjoining lot to Crompton Place.

"It's exciting to think my dreams are essentially the same as Dino's dreams to make this a thriving place… so it's great to have people pulling in the same direction," Fletcher said.

Patience and accommodation

Key to all this growth has been accommodation and sheer patience on Lorusso's part. When he entered into ownership of the property, he had a clear goal in mind. While at times he had to take some tenants that did not quite fit the bill but paid his bills, he was always on the lookout for businesses that he felt would fulfill his vision. When he found a business he often would sweeten the pot through a rent structure that allows these startups to get more space a build a presence, Lorusso said.

By also working out a deal where these businesses were started with more space than they initially were seeking, he was able to ensure that as these businesses were successful they would have the space to remain within his building, rather than leaving for a new location, he said.


Arguably, Crompton Collective now has two anchor stores with the addition of Birch Tree Bread Co. in 2014. This bakery that serves up its own homemade bread, prepared food, locally roasted coffee and locally brewed beer hits on the same customer base and builds upon the brand that Crompton Collective created.

"We complement each other, and you can make a whole afternoon of it," said Avra Hoffman, Birch Tree's general manager and co-owner. "We are bursting at the seams on the weekend."

By having multiple stores serving the same types of customers, the location is able to draw in larger crowds, said Chase.

Building up this brand has involved a lot of faith for Lorusso not only in the startup businesses Crompton Place houses but also with the vision for future expansion. The White Room event venue was Chase's vision that Lorusso took and ran with.

"It's a chemistry that we work at, and everyone succeeds," Lorusso said. "We all feel as if it is our property, not my property."

A wider application

The model exhibited at Crompton Place is one that the city would be wise to look at for the development of downtown, said McGourthy who was working for the city when Crompton Collective was founded. By using anchor stores that attract a distinct crowd, other downtown properties could build traffic and business.

"An anchor tenant does one of three things: it attracts customers, it can establish a brand and third – and important for developers – is it provides finance-ability," McGourthy said. "You want an anchor that has a track record and bank-backing so when a tenant signs a lease, they will be there at the end of the lease."

While taking chances has worked for Lorusso, McGourthy said that downtown locations should not lose sight of securing anchors that can financially stabilize a building while building up other tenants with overlapping visions and customers.

Chase said the city, which offers a great deal of support for startup businesses through training programs and help with finding appropriate available retail space, could help push this forward by coordinating complementary businesses looking to open in the city. By accentuating each business' strengths with other passionate businesses, the success at Crompton Place could be replicated elsewhere, she said.

"Whether you've got a building or a street, everyone's got to be able to play off each other," Chase said.


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