Undeterred by the pandemic’s effects on the events industry, a North Carolina venue owner is full steam ahead on an expansion into Richmond.
Nicole Clayton recently opened the doors at The Loft at Steamer Co. 5, an events venue inside the historic firehouse at 200 W. Marshall St. The 3,000-square-foot space, which opened in mid-February, is the upstairs neighbor of Gallery5, an art gallery that’s been in the building since 2005.
Like others in the events business, Clayton has taken some hits from the pandemic. She was forced to shutter one of her North Carolina venues. But she continues to run The Cloth Mill at Eno River in Hillsborough, North Carolina, and now is back up to two venues with the opening of her space in Jackson Ward.
Existing restrictions on in-person social gatherings remain a hurdle but Clayton said the size of The Loft gives her an advantage. State rules intended to stem the spread of COVID-19 were recently updated to permit social gatherings (i.e., parties and celebrations) of up to 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.
“I’m not worried because I’ve seen the other side,” Clayton said. “I’m just happy I’m here and because my space is smaller I’m doing 60 people at max (anyway).”
Clayton takes over a newly renovated space in the Steamer Co. 5, which was purchased in 2018 by local developer and landlord Bruce Vanderbilt, who fully upgraded the second floor.
Clayton and Vanderbilt have known each other for a few years, and Clayton landed in the space after they started conversations in December about Vanderbilt’s interest in lining up an events operator. Clayton had also explored opening an events venue in Richmond several years ago but had put those plans on the back burner.
“Once I saw it I just fell in love,” she said. “It’s my style. I love historic properties and celebrating the history behind the buildings and who worked in it.”
The building was built in the 1880s and served as a fire station. The building has also been home to a police and fire museum. Clayton’s 10,000-square-foot North Carolina venue is a historic textile mill.
The new venue can handle a maximum of 60 people seated at tables or up to 75 people at a standing reception. Clayton sees her venue as a place for a variety of gatherings, ranging from weddings and birthday parties to conferences and business retreats. She said she has some events already booked.
For now, Clayton and her North Carolina crew run the operation, but the end goal is to have a full local staff of one to three people to run the Richmond venue.
For others in the local event industry, the pandemic forced some difficult choices and some creative pivots. Longtime event supply company Exhibits Inc. shut down and put itself into bankruptcy last year, while event staffing company RMC Events has kept busy by helping run COVID testing and vaccination sites.