Continuum for Creativity owner Mary Brooking poses in her new Dana Warp Mill location, which will open July 1. Chance Viles / American Journal

The Dana Warp Mill in Westbrook has fared well over the pandemic, its owners say, with a number of new businesses, like Continuum for Creativity, moving in.

About 70% of the mill’s 200,000 square footage is leased, Chinburg Properties Director of Asset Management Matt Assia said, which is consistent with the pre-pandemic vacancy rate. However, the number of business at the mill has gone up because some larger spaces have been divided into numerous small offices, which have been in higher demand during the pandemic, he said.

Thirty-two leases were signed between May 1 last year and the first of this month, Assia said. That’s a modest growth, but a good sign for small businesses, Assia said.

“The building has a lot of buzz right now,” he said.

Mary Brooking, owner of the Continuum for Creativity art gallery and school on Main Street, is among the mill’s new tenants. With cheaper rent and a change in her business model during the pandemic, the move makes sense, she said. She expects to be fully moved into the mill July 1.

“Classes are being taught over Zoom and things, and I began to really paint more in a studio kind of way and sell more of my work online,” Brooking said.

While she will continue to teach classes from her new space, she said, her focus has shifted away from hosting public events, such as parties or art shows for others, to creating and selling her own art.

The high ceilings and natural lighting at the mill are conducive to her creative process, she said, and with her new larger, more open space, she sees her art growing in size. She also enjoys chatting with the other small business owners.

“There’s a mojo in there that is really creative, and it seems very friendly,” Brooking said. “I get into conversations with people working there. Can’t say enough nice things about that.”

The mill is host to a number of different businesses like photography studios, jewelry makers, comic book publishers, lawyers, exercise studios and more. It mill has about 60,000 square feet left unleased, Assia said. More small business space may be carved out of vacant large spaces, but Chinburg also is still exploring the idea of using some of it for residential units, he said.

“Even with all the success there is a good amount of vacancy,” he said. “We are still honing it down. It could become either a residential or a smaller office business space, which has grown in use.”

Brooking, a longtime advocate for downtown Westbrook businesses, says her move from Main Street is “bittersweet.”

“I’m very happy, very excited. The bittersweetness is that (Main Street) really is the most amazing location,” Brooking said.

She said her “fondest hope” is that another art business will take over her old space.

“It’s a viable business model, and all of those options and revenue streams are going to open up again.  It’s a good place for exhibits, events and classes,” she said. 

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