The Piedmont Shirt Factory is being revitalized by a family of entrepreneurs who plan to create a new space for the community to gather on Poinsett Highway in 2020.
The husband-and-wife team of Fred and Paula Jane “PJ” Rosen are the new owners of the building, while their children Matt McClain and Chelsea Rosen are working closely with them as their first tenants. McClain and Chelsea Rosen are the owners of Treehugger Customs, which will be headquartered at the space.
The 70,000-square-foot warehouse at 111 Henry St. sits across the street from the former location of the Piedmont Shirt Factory’s main production building, which was torn down in 2013 after falling into disrepair.
“The Poinsett Highway is a real gateway coming into Greenville,” PJ Rosen says. “It has come into disrepair, but we want to get it back to feeling like a very special area that, as you’re coming into Greenville, makes people proud.”
“Greenville used to be completely driven by the textile industry, and when we ignored that, the community suffered,” says local textile historian Don Koonce. He notes that The Piedmont Shirt Factory would have depended heavily on the area’s textile industry for materials as it manufactured its apparel products.
“There’s a lot of awesome culture and history in the area,” McClain says. “We feel that Piedmont Shirt Factory is an opportunity for us to memorialize that.”
The Piedmont Shirt Co. was where Max Heller, who would later be the mayor of Greenville, first worked as an immigrant from war-torn Austria during the Second World War, according to Koonce. The Rosen family plans to continue that inclusive spirit in their plans for the property, according to PJ Rosen: “We want to take care of the people here, rather than scrounge them out.”
“It’s another way of salvaging,” says McClain, whose reclaimed woodwork is one of the hallmarks of his Chelsea Rosen’s work at Treehugger Customs. These values are what lead the family to choose Greenville-based Johnston Design Group as the architects behind the renovations. McClain says, “We picked them because of their portfolio and reputation, and also because of their sustainable approach to their designs.”
Treehugger Customs is the first tenant at the location, but the Rosens plan to welcome other local businesses to the property, which is a 10-minute drive from downtown Greenville. They hope to see artist studios, restaurants, breweries, co-work spaces, or even a co-op on the property. Outdoors, the Rosens have plans for a beer garden and a green space, and will partner with Ride Garden to build a pump track, according to Fred Rosen.
The Rosens plan to start tenant upfitting in August 2020. They say they would like to open the space to the public in the fall of 2020. As they welcome new partnerships, the owners say they want to keep their community vision at center stage. McClain says, “we want to maintain the synergistic approach with the tenants that are here. We want them to have the same philosophies that we have as far as the community.”
Family members say they want the community to name the space, too. A contest is open to allow the public to pick the name, and a $100 prize will be awarded to the winner on Jan. 21.
Fred and PJ Rosen say they tried — unsuccessfully — to retire in 2017. They traveled to Asia, South America, Africa and Antarctica. They volunteered in Thailand after the 2018 tsunami and started an animal hospital in Mexico, according to Fred Rosen. After two years of traveling, they embarked on a new venture much closer to home.
“We love to build things,” PJ Rosen says. “We saw this as a great opportunity to take this as something that was on its way down and bring it up for the community.”
The Rosens have also founded two veterinary hospitals in the Carolinas.
“Entrepreneurship runs in our blood,” McClain says. “Our great-grandfathers were entrepreneurs. Business is just part of who we are. Growing up, when my dad started businesses, we ate ramen and went through hard times. It just becomes part of you. You can’t envision life any other way. I think that’s what got us all here to this point.”
“We’re motivated by knowing that we’re building something for the future. We like the fact that we’ve built something in Spartanburg, Hendersonville [North Carolina], and here,” says PJ Rosen. “We like that we have that legacy that will be passed on to the community.”
Entrepreneurship starts young in the family: Chelsea Rosen was 5 years old when she helped to type up labels for her dad’s business, and McClain’s first design was the logo for his dad’s animal hospital when he was 14.
As adults, the brother-sister duo of Rosen and McClain are the creative minds behind the interior design at Saskatoons, Stone Pin Bowling, and Revel coworking space. “We learned from watching him, and our grandfather was a tree farmer and a woodworker,” Chelsea Rosen says. “He’s taught us a lot.”
Family members say they hope to make the Piedmont Shirt Factory their next Greenville legacy.
“The heritage in these old buildings is so appealing to people,” McClain says. “It might be more cost-effective to tear it down and start over, but it loses the appeal. The preservation is our chance to make sure that doesn’t get lost.”
The Rosens are holding a naming contest for the new community space at Piedmont Shirt Factory location on Poinsett Highway. The name should be one to two words. The contest closes Jan. 21. A $100 prize will be awarded the winner, sponsored by Rosewater Investments LLC. Enter by emailing [email protected]. Entries must include name, address, email and telephone number.