LOWELL — In pairs and small groups, a steady trickle of people makes its way into the grimy alleyway on Jackson Street every Saturday afternoon.
They step into the elevator’s painted red interior and wait for what seems like minutes to reach the fourth floor.
Jen Simone loves to watch for the first-time visitors.
“The elevator door opens into this space, and it’s just a magical experience,” the events coordinator for Mill No. 5 said. “Their minds are blown.”
Part Norman Rockwell’s Main Street, part artists enclave, part rotating menagerie of affordable fancies, Mill No. 5 is the city’s hidden gem. The corridor of shops and galleries is open seven days a week but truly comes alive on the weekends as visitors from around the region flock there for a rare mixture of goods and experiences.
And at the end of the corridor lies the mill’s showpiece — Luna Theater, an independent movie theater that plays indie films (Oscar-nominated “Lady Bird” played there last month) and classics (“Monty Python and the Holy Grail” is playing this Sunday, and “Airplane” the following Sunday).
In keeping with the spirit of Mill No. 5, here are five things to look for should you decide to take the world’s longest elevator ride to the fourth floor.
A Little Bazaar
Every Saturday afternoon has a theme A Little Bazaar.
On March 24, the foyer and corridor of Mill No. 5 were lined with boxes of old records for “The Vinyl Countdown.” Talia and Martin Abeshaus flipped through the merchandise, looking for some classic or new-age rock to add to Talia’s burgeoning vinyl collection.
The Burlington father and daughter are frequent patrons of Vinyl Destination, the Mill No. 5 shop owned by Dave Perry that hosted the event, but even they were shocked by the offerings on hand for the special occasion.
“She was actually kind of overwhelmed when we walked in here,” Martin Abeshaus said.
This coming Saturday, A Little Bazaar will host a Community Clothing Swap (adult sizes only). The following Saturday, it’s The Oddity Marketplace. And later in the month, it will carry everything you need for a slightly quirky wedding.
Red Antler Apothecary
Ever walk into a room and smell a scent you love but can’t quite place? How about a hundred of them?
Aromas emanate from every bar of soap, ice-cream-shaped bath bomb and jar of herbal remedies in the Red Antler Apothecary, tickling the nose and the mind.
“It’s a delicious cacophony of smells,” said Rachel Crawford, of Lowell, as her two young daughters held up bars of colorful soap and tins of lotion to each others’ noses (whether the other wanted to smell it or not).
There are plenty of products for women and men, almost all made by the shop’s staff. And If you’re looking for something to target a particular ailment, owner Rachel Chandler is an herbal-medicine practitioner happy to whip something up.
Once you’re stocked up on bath salts and soothing ointments, take a short walk across the corridor and complete your relaxation starter kit.
The tea and spice shop’s shelves of glass jars are stocked full of ingredients you won’t find at your local grocery store and that you can buy and “do it yourself.”
“It’s a DIY space, so we have lots of recipes you can follow or come in with your own recipes,” said Amy Pennell, of Nashua, N.H., who was manning the counter.
Fill tea bags with mugwort and motherwort, then make yourself a steaming cup of catnip tea. (It has the opposite effect on humans as it does on cats, Pennell said.) Or move over to adjacent shelves and discover the difference between black lava salt and Himalyan pink salt.
Sweet Pig Press
Sometimes you need a greeting card that just says “MEH” or a jauntily vulgar sign to place on a poorly parked car.
Hallmark doesn’t carry such specialized goods — but the Sweet Pig Press does, and you can watch as owner Kerri Velazquez makes them in her shop on a refurbished, 1,500-pound, cast-iron press from 1906.
The impressive piece of machinery, which she rescued from Kansas City in 2013 and recently moved into her shop, is a joy to watch and fits right into the old mill building’s industrial character.
Red & White Market Soda Fountain
Of all Lowell’s claims to fame, perhaps one of its most underrated is as the birthplace of the marble soda fountain, which Gustavus Dows installed in his drug store in the city in 1858.
The Red & White Market has brought back that slice of history with a glossy red-and-white soda fountain serving bubbly concoctions and delicious malt shakes with red and white straws.
It’s been a long time since the all-American tradition has graced Lowell. How long since Veronica Rodriguez has sat at one?
“Well, I was born in 1985, so never,” she said, as she enjoyed a chocolate-malt shake with Wilfredo Rodrîguez on Saturday.
The market is an homage to one of Mill No.5 developer Jim Lichoulas’ hobbies: finding and restoring old pieces of Americana.
Follow Todd Feathers on Twitter @ToddFeathers.