Mercantile Hall owner Wendy Lynch has ambitious plans to make Burlington an epicenter of music, arts and entertainment.
BURLINGTON — Wendy Lynch, who in 2017 bought Mercantile Hall, 425 Pine St., is ready to prove that a small town like Burlington can have the same quality musicians, speakers, entertainers and activities as as Chicago or Milwaukee.
“That these small towns can be epicenters for really cool, engaging entertainment,” she said.
Mercantile Hall used to be home to the Schuette-Daniels furniture store, a downtown mainstay until a fire ripped through the building in 2013. Underneath the charred carpets, Lynch found beautiful hardwood floors. She stripped the space to expose its brick walls and ceiling beams to form an open entertainment space. And she said she invested in a top notch sound system.
When one of the former members of the alternative rock band Smashing Pumpkins was in town, he stopped by to test the space and declared it was “awesome.”
“I loved the validation from a musician who’s seen a thing or two,” said Lynch.
But would someone like that play in Burlington? Lynch said for entertainers who have reached those heights of fame, it can be refreshing to play a small room where they can see and connect with the audience.
“There’s a need for talent to connect with and to fall in love again with why they wanted to do what they’re doing,” said Lynch.
She’s also collaborating with Patrick Sullivan, who organizes the Tall Tales Music Festival, to book up-and-coming musicians. She also hopes to book speakers, storytellers, authors and comedians.
In addition to bringing top notch entertainment to town, Lynch hopes to Mercantile Hall into an epicenter for community life.
Lynch said her events ideas have been percolating for a long time and are a hodge-podge of happenings she’s seen or heard about across the country, from Florida to Seattle. In March, the city gave the establishment a liquor license so she’s ready to make them a reality right here in Burlington.
There’s already a few events lined up for the summer and more coming down the pike.
Once the Burlington Farmer’s Market kicks off on Thursday evenings in Wehmhoff Square, Lynch plans on kicking off First Thursdays. On the first Thursday of the month, she’ll open up the space for people who want to grab a drink, listen to some music and perhaps even dance the night away. She also hopes to have pop-up vendors on the sidewalk outside Mercantile Hall selling food or merchandise.
In May, the venue will host a craft beer dinner and in June, on the night before Father’s day, they’ll hold a big band concert and supper club dinner called “Ode to Dad.” On July 1, they’re planning an indoor beer garden with food trucks parked outside, for an event they’re calling “Trucks and Taps.”
Some of the more ambitious projects include a float down the Fox River with bands playing on the banks and shuttle service back to Mercantile for live music and a “pop-up brewery.” Another is a Pine Street farm to table dinner, where local farmers and restaurants would team up to serve meals along a table stretched down Pine Street, a principal downtown thoroughfare.
Lynch said she hopes these events will make outsiders and Burlington residents see their small community in a new way.
“We’re hoping to inspire new businesses and residents to explore Burlington and elevate our already awesome sense of pride for this charming town we live in,” she said.