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Welcome to The Stitch!

Townsend Leather offers tours of newly-restored building on anniversary

Townsend Leather Senior Vice President Tim Beckett provides local leaders joining the Fulton County Center for Regional Growth's monthly business around The Stitch, formerly the Diana Knitting Mill. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

JOHNSTOWN — New life has taken up residence in a long vacant building, shaped through the longevity of a city based leather finisher supplying designers internationally that celebrated its 50th anniversary this month and the grand opening of the restored building.

Local leaders attended Townsend Leather’s 50th Anniversary Jubilee on Sept. 6 mingling with current and former Townsend employees, state and local officials and community members during an afternoon celebration of the family-owned business’ history and its future through the grand opening of Townsend’s newest building, The Stitch, following a ribbon cutting ceremony.

The Stitch, located at 4 Grove St., is Townsend’s new home for its sales, marketing, accounting, human resources and management teams and warehousing of raw materials. The multi-building connected complex that formerly served as the Diana Knitting Mill was vacant for roughly 16 years before Townsend purchased the property in late 2017 and undertook a massive renovation project.

“If we didn’t do something this building would have fallen down,” Townsend Leather Senior Vice President Tim Beckett said while leading a group of local leaders through the building as part of the Fulton County Center for Regional Growth’s monthly business tour scheduled to coincide with the 50th Anniversary Jubilee festivities.

After enjoy the carnival-like atmosphere of the anniversary celebration full of food, games, music, prizes and more, Beckett led officials through the now occupied Grove Street building that has been completely overhauled to bring in modern amenities while maintaining the old world feel of the historic manufacturing space.

While celebrating the company's 50th Anniversary Jubilee on Sept. 6, Townsend Leather held a ribbon cutting and grand opening for the company's newest building, the former Diana Knitting Mill on Grove Street now known as The Stitch. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

“The architecture in this building, as we go through, is phenomenal. What they did in 1900 when they built the first part of the building and then carried all the way through was amazing,” Beckett said.

Beckett showed off the building’s main entrance where photos and mementos from current and former Townsend employees have been amassed to assemble a make-shift museum. The space further showcases the history of the local manufacturing industry through the display of the massive door from the building’s former boiler that was made in Amsterdam.

“This boiler was made here locally when we made a lot of awesome things and we wanted to make sure we kept it and highlighted it,” Beckett said of the antique door that Townsend had permanently installed in a wall facing the main entrance. “It’s kind of a showstopper when we come in.”

Moving into a sitting room just off the main entrance, Beckett pointed out a table made from a warm-colored wood and explained that the material previously covered the first floor of the building before a burst sprinkler flooded the building during a cold snap in December 2018.

The Johnstown Fire Department pumped the water out of the building and worked with Townsend’s maintenance crews to squeegee the wooden floorboards that ultimately buckled throughout the ground level as they dried over time.

A conference room at The Stitch features a table constructed from the 1900 era building's salvaged floorboards from the ground level that buckled due to water damage. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

Townsend salvaged the wood and local artisans combined the floorboards with other reclaimed pieces of leather milling, sewing and knitting equipment and materials to create new pieces of furniture for use throughout The Stitch, highlighting the heritage of both Townsend and the Diana Knitting Mill.

“You don’t buy wood from 1900 every day of the week, so you’ll see some of the pieces of furniture that we built out of the floors,” Beckett said. “What we tried to do is bring in a lot of the old stuff from our mill and a couple of other mills, but also mix in with knitting, so you’ll see some sewing machines and some other things.”

Throughout The Stitch original wooden beams and brick walls are featured prominently in open concept spaces being utilized for modern office areas and conference rooms. On the Second and third floors the original wooden floors remain intact and Townsend purchased reclaimed wooden doors where called for to maintain the architectural aesthetic.

“We wanted to make sure we kept the building looking like an old building,” Beckett said.

Leather is another common feature of the decor in the form of large and small swatches, samples and photos of finished pieces Townsend’s leather has been turned into and fixtures and pieces of furniture covered in the material.

The main entrance to The Stitch features the building's former boiler door that was crafted in Amsertdam permanently installed as a focal point. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

“We want everyone to see and feel what we do on a daily basis over on Townsend Ave.,” Beckett said.

While the interior of The Stitch has a timeless feel through the mix of antique and contemporary design work, Beckett noted that all new gas and electric was installed in the building, along with a three stop elevator to bring the building into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Only a warehouse space on the second floor for storing Townsend’s raw production materials has a modern feel featuring newly installed metal racks and lighting fixtures.

“We couldn’t grow our machines over in the other building without getting more space,” Beckett explained.

The need for storage space motivated Townsend to purchase the Diana Knitting Mill complex as the company sought a location to warehouse hides purchased from Germany, where Beckett said the highest grade materials in the world are produced. Townsend finishes the materials according to contracts with designers in the residential, hospitality, contract, aviation and transportation markets around the world.

A table constructed from water damaged 1900 era floorboards and donated furniture from the 1950s that Townsend Leather recovered in their signature product make up a small sampling of the decor company's newly opened building called The Stitch. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

“For our markets, aviation, the private jet industry, they have to be the best of the best,” Beckett said.

The company considered opening warehouse space in Germany or in New York City before deciding to secure a space locally. Townsend originally sought only 20,000 square feet, but ultimately purchased 66,000-square-foot Diana Knitting Mill complex due to the look of the building.

“It’s unbelievable,” Beckett said taking in the finished space that Townsend moved into in July.

The building features a variety of spaces, including several areas that Townsend will market as leaseable office space on the first and third floors. Beckett said Townsend has already lined up a tenant with 26 employees to occupy a roughly 4,000 square foot space on the first floor, adding that the lease was waiting on his desk for final review.

In moving the 50 year old company forward, Beckett said executives carefully contemplated Townsend’s future, coming to the conclusion that the building would be ideal for supporting growth or contraction by the company as the building is actually composed of two tax parcels that could be divided if the company sought to downsize in the future by relocating the company offices.

Samples of Townsend Leather's work make up some of the decor at the company's newest building known as The Stitch. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

“We could split the building in half, we have separate utilities for both. We could rent that all out for office space and just use this for storage. We were trying to think about where we’re going to be and what we’re going to do,” Beckett said.

If the company continues to grow there will be plenty of room in The Stitch for expansion.

Townsend Leather Senior Vice President Tim Beckett shows local leaders with the Fulton County Center for Regional Growth's monthly business tour warehouse space in the company's newest building known as The Stitch. (The Leader-Herald/Ashley Onyon)

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