Bryan Donovan owns the old Lebanon Paper Box Factory, the enormous early 20th century industrial building on the northeast corner of 12th and Cumberland Streets in the City of Lebanon.
Not being a native, he might not look at it in the same way as someone who has lived in Lebanon for decades would.
To Donovan, a Camp Hill resident, there is potential for a mix of businesses, maybe even residences, in a building which he says is still structurally solid and capable of again being an asset to the city.
A western gateway to the City of Lebanon.
But he understands how longtime Lebanonians, motoring past it daily on their way in and out of town, could see something that looks dead, empty, boarded up, and fading.
Donovan is doing his best to change that perception.
Now that he’s completed some preliminary sprucing up by patching sections of the roof, upgrading the sprinkler system, replacing about 500 broken windows, and installing security cameras, he’ll be holding the first Lebanon Paper Box outdoor flea market on Saturday, August 24 in the property’s parking lot at 1131 Cumberland Street.
“The whole idea of the flea market is just to let people know that this is not a vacant building,” says Donovan, “that it’s not a blight on the city.”
He has 22 retail vendors, two food vendors, and live music lined up for August 24, and has space for another 10 vendors. A second flea market is planned for September 21.
At first glance, “the Boxie” looks like – there’s no better way to say it – a box. But it’s actually a series of connected boxes, built at different times since 1904, that wind their way along the Quittapahilla Creek, back to Willow Street. Columns and beams progressing from wood to steel to concrete mark the relative age of each section as one walks through the massive three story complex.
“I was drawn to the layout of this building,” Donovan said on a recent tour one hot Saturday morning. “It’s not one giant square, it’s serpentine. There are lots of outside walls and windows and courtyards, which make more attractive and useful space.”
The 217,000 square foot building isn’t empty, and never has been since the Lebanon Paper Box Company, renamed Lebanon Packaging Corporation, moved out in 1973.
According to several Lebanon Daily News stories, the building has been used steadily for a variety of storage and warehousing purposes, including by a New Jersey company for a liquor warehouse, and by the operator of an earlier flea market in 1976.
The Boxie was once a big employer in the city. Help wanted ads for Lebanon Paper Box appeared in the Daily News into the early 1970s, including a 1972 ad for “day & night shift” help. A 1972 story announcing the new name reported that the company, still at its city location, had 350 employees.
Nowadays, Donovan primarily leases space to several metal casting companies to store their wooden and metal patterns, some of which are 50 years old. They take up about 75% of the building. Other businesses also store property there.
Storage, however, is not what Donovan has in mind for the long term. “The property is zoned Central Business District,” he says. “That means I have to have commercial or retail uses on the first floor, but I could have residential units on the second and third.”
His concept is a mix of small businesses operating in the building alongside one another. “You see some of these other operations with different retailers in them,” he says. “Complimentary things. Maybe you’ll have a bike shop, a yoga studio, a coffee shop – all those different activities going on.”
That won’t happen quickly, and Donovan says the first step, as evidenced by the upcoming flea market, is rejuvenating what he calls “the Lebanon Paper Box Brand.”
He has no hard timelines or rigid plans.
“It’s going to take time, and it’s going to grow organically.”
“But the Boxie is not dead.”