It takes a village
Written by Shelbi Polk | Photograph by S.P. Murray
Stepping through the front doors of Mill Outlet Village would be overwhelming, if it weren’t for the prominently posted map and helpful staff. The journey begins in the small foyer, decorated with the history of the store. There’s a large portrait of the company’s founder, Lynn Bazemore, alongside an ancient sewing machine and yellowing newspaper clips tracing more than 70 years of dealing in fabric and foam.
“When people first walk through that front door, a lot of them are taken aback,” says veteran employee Linda Robinson. The cavernous space beyond the arch is divided into “neighborhoods” based on product: virtual forests of fabrics, library shelves of ribbons and tassels, a floor-to-ceiling selection of foam and outdoor carpets and plenty more. “So if you have a project to do, this is the place to come,” says upholstery manager Sue Tartaglia. Tartaglia, who has been working at the store for 12 years, says she regularly runs across husbands who have lost track of their wives somewhere among the different sections.
Lynn Bazemore didn’t wait until he had a degree to become an entrepreneur. He sold socks out of his dorm room at East Carolina University and mill ends out of his truck. In 1958, Bazemore opened his first store on Capital Boulevard. The ‘Village’ part of Mill Outlet Village emerged from Bazemore’s second store: In 1965, Lynn moved the business to a new location and continued to expand. There, he grew by setting up shops in buildings next to the initial space, so customers would have to wander in and out of different spaces, like a whole village. He also opened stores in New Bern and Wilmington.
Lynn Bazemore’s sons Mike and Garvey Bazemore took over the business in 1992 and collected the different pieces of the business under one roof—the current location—in 1993. Mike Bazemore says the shop has worked hard to keep up with Raleigh’s growth, and they’re excited for the possibilities that development brings. “We are truly a local landmark for fabric lovers and long-time customers,” Bazemore says. “Our goal now is to get the word out to the newcomers that move into the area so they can experience the local appeal that we are truly known for.”
Today’s iteration of the store is still truly a village, gathered under one roof. Different sections cover a huge range of products, including flags, fabric, lamps, mirrors, foam and outdoor carpets. But Robinson and Tartaglia agree that it’s a village in the way the shop builds community, too.
“Every customer is a story,” Tartaglia says. “They’ll invite mill employees into their lives through their projects.” Tartaglia says the staff is big on customer service. “They’ll tell us, ‘Oh this was in my husband’s family, and we want to update it’,” she says. “So we do get involved with people and their families.” That involvement can last generations: Tartaglia fondly recalled one customer who’s been bringing her son, or pictures of him, into the shop for decades. The clientele is full of regulars who remember coming into the shop as children and now bring their children—and there are many out-of-towners say they make a point to stop in every time they visit Raleigh, Tartaglia says.
Robinson, whose 21 years at Mill Outlet Village make her of the most seasoned employees, says it’s a community on the inside too. “It’s just a great place to work,” she says. After Robinson’s mom died, for example, she was able to take the time she needed, and the other employees came around to help her. “It’s a big support system,” she says. “We have each others’ backs, and not every business has that.”
“Sometimes we all need a village for support,” Robinson says.