ST. JOSEPH — The Box Factory for the Arts is hoping to unwrap some very special presents this holiday season.

If not, they could have a Grinchy new year.

The center at 1101 Broad St. in St. Joseph, which encompasses gallery, studio and performance space, is in dire need of donations and new rent-paying business tenants for its third-floor space.

“It’s been mounting,” said Judy Sokolowski, president of the board of directors of Berrien Artist Guild, about the Box Factory’s financial troubles.

One setback has been the loss of revenue from the vacant 7,800 square feet of office space on the upper floor. Whirlpool Corp. was once a tenant, and the last large operation was Fathom Works, an advertising and marketing company that moved in 2015 to State Street and became Holte-Bosse.

That vacancy is costing the Box Factory around $6,000 a month, Sokolowski said.

She described it as “a nice, bright, open space,” with wide windows and lots of natural light. “It has a Silicon Valley feel.”

It has its own 24-hour entrance, high-speed internet and is within walking distance to downtown St. Joseph.

Some of the original features, from when the building was occupied by the Williams Brothers Paper Box Factory, still remain, such as wooden pillars, hand cranks for the loft windows, and the pulley for the fire hose. The factory was built in 1905 and was purchased and renovated by the Berrien Artist Guild in 1995.

“It’s just a wonderful setting,” agreed David Holt, president and creative director of Holt-Bosse. “The high ceilings, old-fashioned furnishings and trendy feel would be an ideal situation for many small companies. Lots of spaces have a cramped feel about them, but the Box Factory is definitely on the opposite side of the spectrum. For us, it gave us the room to stretch our creative wings.”

There is a special feeling about the building, Sokolowski said.

“People walk in and say there is a certain synergy from just being in the building,” she said. “I don’t think there is another space like this in the region.”

If enough money can be raised, the board would like to divide the large space into sections that would be more suitable to smaller firms. The Berecz law firm and a counseling office are renting space on the third floor.

Rising utility bills reaching up to $3,000 a month have put an additional strain on their bottom line, and they could go higher, Sokolowski worried.

Maintaining an older building – one with 19 furnaces – is expensive, as well. Changes in tax deduction laws have reduced donations, Sokolowski said.

The Box has had some not-so-secret Santas, who still need helpers.

In response to a donor letter sent by the guild, the family of the late V. Jean Gast last week announced a donation of $15,000 to the Box Factory in memory of their mother, who was a founding member of the Berrien Artist Guild in 1962. Mrs. Gast, wife of the late Sen. Harry Gast, was involved in the purchase of the Box Factory building in 1995 and continued as a board member, volunteer, educator and artist until her death in 2016. The Box Factory classroom was named for her.

“Jean was a good friend and mentor of mine for many years,” said Sokolowski. “She was one of the first people I met when my husband, Dan, and I moved to St. Joe in 1996.”

The organization also received a $25,000 challenge grant from the Frederick S. Upton Foundation for repairs to the building’s roof.

Both donations must be matched by community contributions. They have collected about half of the match for the Upton Foundation grant, which cannot be used for operations, and would like to have all matching donations by the end of the year.

If donations are not received, there could be dire consequences for the Box Factory. Sokolowski said it could lead to cutting back hours after the first of the year and closing the gallery. The possibility of layoffs is also being discussed.

The studio spaces will remain available and events will continue through the end of the year, including the highly popular Makers Market this Saturday.

The board of directors will meet Dec. 4 to map out a plan for their future survival. Sokolowski is confident that the community will put the Box Factory on its gift list.

“I’m staying positive,” she said.

Those interested in looking at office space can contact Jenny Waters at

Matching dollars to the V. Jean Gast Memorial can be sent to The Box Factory for the Arts, 1101 Broad Street, St. Joseph, MI 49085 or online with PayPal at For more information, contact Judy Sokolowski at, or by phone at 269-757-7181.

Contact:, 932-0360, Twitter: @HPMatuszak