Coppes Commons preserving past, building for future

NAPPANEE — After decades of uncertainty, Thomas Mast gave new life to the Coppes factory just east of downtown when he bought it in 2007. Now, reinvented as Coppes Commons, Mast wants to turn the sprawling facility into a premier center for commerce and gathering.

"This an opportunity for businesses to come in and sell and produce" Mast said. "It's a unique atmosphere."

When Mast took over the cavernous, 180,000-square foot structure made up of at least 15 building projects between 1887-1955, many scoffed.

"Everybody thought I was a fool," Mast said. "It was just full of junk and trash."

When Coppes Nappanee Co., which at one time employed 250 people, was bought out in 1969, the factory began a long period of deterioration and was a focus of public scorn. It was completely vacant for over two decades and was set to be demolished before Mast stepped in to save it.

"This was the cornerstone of Nappanee and why businesses started around Nappanee," Coppes Lease Group's Larry Andrews said. "So many in our community are pleased to see it be continued, improved and in use again. It can't be overstated what a big piece of our history it is."

After initial cleanup, Nappanee Bakery and Treat Shop opened in Nov. 2008. There are now four additional businesses — Light of Grace Book & Gift Store, Plain and Fancy Gourmet Kettle cannery, The Tea Pot & More and the Main Street Coffee Drive-Thru.

"We want people to know there are businesses here and that there will be a lot going on here in the future," Andrews said.

To Mast, the current businesses are prime examples of Nappanee culture.

"At the bakery you can see them making the baked goods. At the cannery you can watch them can," Mast said. "We'd like to bring in artisans that you can see what they're doing, but we're not tied to just that. We do want to continue the craftsmanship history of Nappanee."

After extensive rehabilitation, Coppes Commons is ready to be developed throughout.

"We want to welcome people to come talk to us who are thinking about starting a business," Andrews said. "We're here to help them start. We have all kinds of space and we can design it just for them."

Andrews and Mast envision normal storefronts and satellite stores for rural businesses, many of which participate in demonstrations during Second Saturdays events at Coppes Commons. There are ongoing discussions about forming a community natural foods co-op, which could be located at the center. There are also plans for a banquet room upstairs. With many Coppes kitchen pieces on site, a museum or historical room will eventually take shape.

Right now, only about 25 percent of Mast's total restoration plan is complete. A major segment will be tackled this summer, especially outside, which will make the entrance in the back of the building more easily accessible and enhance its visual appeal.

"This year will make a tremendous difference," Mast said. "We're getting a new street from Main to Jackson, sidewalks, trees, park benches and street lights. This is going to be a big year for us."

For more information on Coppes Commons, log on to www.coppescommons.com. To find out more about business opportunities, call Andrews at 574-773-0002 or e-mail to landrews@coppescommons.com.