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Former factory is boosting Pepperell business

PEPPERELL — When Bemis Bag ramped down in the 1990s, it closed production and then used the rambling building as a warehouse. Eventually, after seven decades in town, it closed completely.

Today, the 9,300 square-foot building is a face of a new business world.

A year an a half ago, businesses began to lease space. Warehousing, offices and light industry are all possible in the industrial zone. Two fitness businesses moved in this spring.

The Lexvest Group manages the building purchased by an affiliate. “I think we’re doing pretty well,” said Eric Shapiro, president of the Lexvest Group. “The building is about 30 percent occupied.”

Areas are built out to tenants’ specifications. As the businesses grow, there is room to expand.

Shared amenities sets Pepperell Place apart from a more traditional commercial building. Instead of each business maintaining a conference room, Lexvest built a common room with a table and chairs that tenants can reserve.

The lunch room and bathrooms are shared. Another benefit is free membership in an on-site gym, Fitness Your Weigh. Of course, the owner, Steve Levesque, hopes that gym users might sign up for some personal training, too.

The location, in a small town, is attractive to Lexvest and their tenants.

“Pepperell is, on one hand, off the beaten path,” Shapiro said. “On the other, it is central to a number of different communities.”

Businesses can draw employees from three urban areas: Fitchburg/Leominster, Lowell and Nashua, N.H. “When you add up those demographics, those cities have a huge number of residents that have a diverse educational and work experience,” he said.

Pepperell is also a good place for people in surrounding towns to work who do not want to drive inside Route 128 every day, said Senior Vice President Chip Detwiller. The Groton resident does not miss the long commute he did for years.

“Our job is to find those businesses who want to take advantage of those communities,” he said.

No major highways go through the town, but the trip to Route 2 is about 12 minutes, he said. Route 3 is only 13 minutes away.

Pepperell Place tenants, like All Things Jeep, do not need to be right on a highway. They usually ship their materials in on tractor-trailers and ship out packaged materials by FedEx and UPS, he said.

The biggest strength of Pepperell Place is the cost of doing business, Detwiller said.

“We can beat the pants off 495,” he said. “It’s a wonderful space at a competitive price.”

Pepperell itself is also a strong selling point.

“The community has been incredibly supportive,” Shapiro said.

Potential tenants are wowed when they visit one of the town’s restaurants, Detwiller said.

Lexvest has become part of the local business community and want their tenants to connect with that local support too. A membership in the Pepperell Business Association and the Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce is included in the first year’s lease.

The repurposing of the building brings a new economic driver to Pepperell. Right now, exclusive of the two health clubs, about 40 vehicles park at the building daily.

Lexvest is pleased with the progress. “It’s not instant,” Shapiro said. “We can’t be expecting it to be filled in a day.”

Lexvest, which also developed a similar, bigger project at Phoenix Park in Shirley, prefers to take the long road, he said.

By filling the building with many businesses, rather than just one, all of the jobs will not be drained if a business leaves, Shapiro said.

“Putting the thing on the map has been a great joy to me,” he said.

Follow Anne O’Connor on Twitter @a1oconnor.