MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- Would you buy a piece of property sight unseen? What if it was an old textile mill that last saw activity more than 13 years back?
Michael Bay was in Italy when he got a call about the old Burlington Mill in downtown Mooresville. He pulled up the image on Google Earth and that was enough for him to make an offer.
“We made an offer and he said, ‘Are you sure, you haven’t seen it,’” Bay remembered. “Forty acres on the main street with 1.1 million square feet in United States of America you can never go wrong.”
The buildings Bay bought date back to the late 1800’s and tell a story of a manufacturing past.
“To me, this building is American Heritage. If you look at it inside and outside it is a beautiful building,” he said.
It is especially beautiful to this Turkish-born, London-reared businessman who buys old mills like this one for his furniture stores.
“We know how the buildings are. We know what the problems are,” he explained.
The Mooresville location is the third Merinos Home Furnishings. He has one near Atlanta and another in Fort Lawn, South Carolina.
“For the furniture industry, you need tons of space and the only place you can get tons of space at the wonderful price is old mills,” he said. Bay bought this latest Mill for $500,000 and to fully see its scale, loaded NewsChannel 36 in his SUV for a ride around the property.
The first question when you see it, is there enough demand for that much furniture in one place?
“If you do it right and properly and pass all the savings on to your customer then yes, there is. But if you get greedy, forget it,” he said.
The main building covers the acreage of a small farm. Three acres are already finished and open to the public. Bay is trying to fill the space with as much American-made furniture as possible. He estimates he’ll have about 60 percent made the USA.
To be more energy efficient and take advantage of natural light, Bay is opening windows bricked up by the old owners. He envisions a bookstore and a café on site. A separate building will become his Naples style pizzeria. Yet another is being gutted and restored to house high-end American furniture targeted to European buyers.
“We’re going to start working here next week fixing walls and putting in the windows.”
Right now, 18 people work in the store. As many as 50, like Gary Gibson, are working construction.
“He’s causing us a lot of jobs,” Gibson said. “He’s creating a bunch of them.”
When it’s all finished, in September of this year, Bay envisions a workforce of as many as 400 employees.
“We’re doing all this without anybody’s help as well as without any bank’s help,” Bay said proudly.
Bay is transforming the old mill roughly a decade after his modest start in the furniture business. He began by selling antiques from the back of his van.
“Out of desperation,” he explained. “I came here about 10 years ago, and I had to do something to make a living.”
Driving around his construction zone, Michael Bay is overjoyed to be transforming a part of Mooresville’s past into what he hopes will be an integral part of its future.
And he’s making a few friends along the way.
“We have people coming by and saying ‘I worked here 38 years, 48 years or 27 years.’ And it is wonderful to see them and offer them a drink and a donut and make them welcome,” he said.
Merinos Home Furnishings is located at 500 South Main Street in Mooresville. To keep track of upcoming jobs at the location, check out www.merinosfurniture.com.