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by Brianna Baker – Green Philly, New Jersey Sustainability Reporting Hub
January 7, 2020
Entrepreneur Tom Marchetty pours his passion for history, reuse, and innovation into sustainably made furniture. Now, as the finalist in a Camden public art competition, he eyes his next possible project.
Tom Marchetty loves a good backstory. Whether he’s slabbing 300-year-old lumber or servicing old manufacturing machinery, he values the history behind the objects in his care.
But it’s Marchetty’s own backstory that makes him a compelling contender for A New View Camden, a competition among artists bidding to transform six of the city’s vacant, blighted lots into community gathering spaces. Among the 20 finalists, Marchetty, a woodworker and machine specialist, is the only one who grew up in Camden.
But that’s not all: the lot he’s eyeing sits across the street from the building that once housed his father’s business, Marchetty Machinery.
A New View Camden won’t announce the six winning artists until January. Until then, Marchetty is crossing his fingers, hoping he can take part in a project that he thinks will be a gamechanger for Camden, its residents and its environment.
Giving old materials new life in Collingswood’s The Factory Workers
Marchetty, 42, runs The Factory Workers, a coworking and event space in Collingswood, a town just outside Camden. The business is rooted in Marchetty’s childhood, which he spent helping his father service and repair factory equipment in Philadelphia and Camden. According to Marchetty, as more and more factories shut down in the 80’s and 90’s, his family business shifted: clients began paying Marchetty and his father to take the machinery off their hands.
“I never had the heart to take stuff and throw it into a dump, especially good working machines and equipment,” Marchetty said.
Instead, Marchetty Machinery bought and sold them, trying to find each piece of equipment a new home. Eventually, after his father retired and turned the business over to him, Marchetty sold the shop. He gave away as much of the remaining machines as he could, but was still left with more than he could handle. That’s when he dreamed up the idea of his own makerspace.
“If I could find a place where I could put this stuff, and I could use it and other people could use it, it could be a win-win,” Marchetty said.
In 2014, he purchased a 16,000 square foot abandoned movie theater. Built in 1920, the building’s original plastering and custom oil paintings still adorn the walls.
“It was foreclosed on,” Marchetty said of the building. “Somebody left it to die, like these machines.”
Marchetty moved the machines into the space and, for five years, charged customers a monthly fee to use them to create their own furniture, artwork and more. But he was forced to shut down the makerspace due to high insurance costs. Instead, to offset his utility bills, he turned the back of the building into offices. 22 small businesses, from graphic designers to coffee roasters, now rent from Marchetty and work out of the building. Together, they make up The Factory Workers.
“It was like a tribute to all the men and women who lost their jobs in the 80s and 90s,” Marchetty said of the name.
Marchetty also rents out the space for weddings and other events on the weekends. And by day, he uses it as his personal studio. Marchetty began making custom tables a few years ago, when he decided to donate one to Constellation Collective, a cafe in Collingswood.
“I finally got to do a project for myself, even though it wasn’t for me,” he said. “To get my hands on the equipment and tools again, it just really jump-started.”
Now Marchetty is constantly filling orders for clients ranging from restaurants to his own friends. He makes his tables from repurposed machinery and “urban timber”: reclaimed, locally sourced wood. Sustainability is certainly a motivating factor behind Marchetty choice in materials, but for the most part, he simply prefers working with parts that have a story behind them.
“It’s not because it’s green, but because it’s just better,” he said of the wood he uses. “It’s natural art. You don’t have to do anything with it except bring it back to life. And that’s the fun part.”
Marchetty’s vision for building community in Camden
And while he’s quick to see art in his materials, he hesitates to apply similar labels to himself.
“I just like working with my hands,” he said. “I’m very passionate about what I do, but I’ve never considered myself an artist.”
But the judges for A New View Camden certainly consider him one. Marchetty was recently announced as one of 20 finalists, selected from a pool of 130 applicants. He had submitted a proposal after his friends urged him to check out the project. When he saw that the site at 1401 Federal Street faced the former home of Marchetty Machinery, it felt like fate.
The lot is one of six selected by the project partners, which include the City of Camden, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, and the Rutgers–Camden Center for the Arts. Most of the sites are hotspots for illegal dumping, a citywide problem that A New View Camden hopes to address.
For his proposal, Marchetty pitched a “pod park,” with mobile, shaded picnic tables and an outdoor art gallery that would display work by Camden residents. And of course, all seating, play equipment and displays would be built, at least partially, out of his own machine parts and other repurposed materials from dumps.
To Marchetty, it made sense to build something that his neighbors could interact with and share, rather than an immobile piece of art. Much like The Factory Workers, his “pod park” is inspired by one core value: community.
“I wasn’t a big fan of just showcasing my work,” Marchetty said. “I’d rather collaborate with other people.”
The 20 finalists in A New View Camden hail from around the world and represent a variety of mediums. While Marchetty is intimidated by the competition, he’s also excited to see international talent flock to his hometown. And he’s optimistic that, whether he wins or not, the project will bring positive attention and development to Camden.
“I wouldn’t want to be one of those judges,” he said. “In my book, every one of those guys was a winner. They all nailed it.”
But if he does win, Marchetty would be thrilled to use the park to tell the story of his family business. After he decided to apply, he took his father to the Federal Street site, where they shared a picnic. Legacy is a powerful driving force behind Marchetty’s work. It even shows itself in his medium of choice: dining tables.
“It’s where families gather,” he said. “Someday, one of these kid’s grandkids are gonna be fighting over this table that I made.”
People also gather at The Factory Workers, for weddings, neighborhood barbeques and family reunions. And hopefully, if his project is selected, Camden will gather at Marchetty’s pod park.
“A big building like this shouldn’t be closed up to the outdoors,” Marchetty said of The Factory Workers. “Same thing with artwork: it should be out there for people to enjoy. That’s what it’s about. I want to live through my work, not work to live.”
This story was produced in collaboration with the New Jersey Sustainability Reporting Hub project. It was originally reported by Brianna Baker for Green Philly, and may be re-distributed through the Creative Commons License, with attribution.