January 24, 2024

Longtime Tomato Factory in Hopewell Offers History and An Array of Choices

FAMILY FOCUS: “Over the years, both shop owners and customers have often become great friends. It has been so rewarding on so many levels,” says Sloane Browning left, who manages The Tomato Factory in Hopewell. She is shown with her mother, Mary Ann Browning, who established The Tomato Factory with her husband Maurice Browning in 1964. They are proud to be celebrating the company’s 60th anniversary.

By Jean Stratton

What’s new? What’s old? What’s hot? What’s best?

Whatever it is, you can find it in Hopewell’s Tomato Factory, located at 2 Somerset Street.

Long a favorite of customers from Princeton and beyond, it is a cooperative featuring 18 different shops all conveniently located under one roof.

“The Tomato Factory has become the place I go when I am looking for something specific, whether it be seasonal decor or a gift for a friend, but also somewhere to go when I have a day off. It’s a magical place. You don’t tell Tomato Factory what you’re looking for — it tells you!” says Caroline Noebels of Hightstown.

Unique Pieces

“Collecting over the years, I have so many unique pieces that I could not find anywhere else. When my friends ask where something is from — from the linens on my table to the bracelet on my wrist — they already know the answer!”

The Tomato Factory’s history dates to 1964, when husband and wife Maurice and Mary Ann Browning purchased what was once the Hopewell Valley Tomato Canning Company. The building itself dates to 1892, and it housed the thriving canning company, which provided ingredients for the Campbell Soup Company and Heinz Ketchup, among other customers.

“My parents purchased the building to set up manufacturing for a new home furnishing business,” recalls Sloane Browning, who now manages the Tomato Factory. “My mother is an interior designer, graduate of Parsons School of Design, and my father had a background in business working for the international division of the Borden Company. With my mom’s interior design vision and my dad’s business acumen, they developed lines of bathroom decor, including shower curtains, valances, window curtains, fabric-covered waste baskets, tissue boxes, and other accessories in coordinating fabrics.”

Because the building was so large, extra space was available, and the Brownings were contacted by an antiques dealer looking for a display area.

Various Spaces

“It started with one dealer,” continues Sloane Browning. “Word got out, and more dealers followed until it became a co-op of antique shops. Over the years, the home decor business changed from wholesale manufacturing to a full interior design business serving the area until just a few years ago.”

Over time, the number and variety of shops and dealers continued to grow, and now two floors house 18 different shopping opportunities. Customers enjoy the eclectic aspect of items, which are engagingly displayed in the various spaces. The Tomato Factory has become such a desirable place to showcase products that there is now a waiting list for dealers.

You can find just about everything!  Pottery, glassware, home decor, jewelry, dolls, toys, vintage books and magazines, vinyl records, art, clothing, etc.

The dealers appreciate the convenient arrangement provided by The Tomato Factory. They can rent the space in a location which guarantees plentiful customer traffic. In addition, if a dealer cannot be on site, other “substitutes” will be on hand to assist customers.

Many of the dealers have been with Tomato Factory for many years. Joyce Carroll of Joyce’s Early Lighting has been with the operation for 15 years. An antique and vintage lighting specialist, she offers a varied selection of table and floor lamps, chandeliers and sconces,

“Tomato Factory is a wonderful place to display items,” she says. “So many people come in, and lately, we have been getting a lot of young people. They are from all over, and are interested in everything. I think that is very encouraging.”

Leading Artisan

Other dealers include John Shedd of John Shedd Designs, who is a leading artisan in the region. His work in pottery and tile is well known, and he has chosen Tomato Factory as his showcase for the last four years. His bowls, dinnerware, platters, mugs, and decorative pieces continue to be in demand, and lately, he reports there is increased interest in his tables and tile.

“This is a great place to display my work,” he points out, ”and we have many regular customers throughout the area and beyond.”

Christina Winka of Kristina Keepsakes has two spaces at Tomato Factory, where she has been displaying her products since 2019. One focus is a “Tea Room,” with a variety of teapots, cups and saucers, the popular blue and white dishes, and more. In addition, she offers her own handmade wreaths and floral arrangements as well as an eclectic mix of vintage TV trays, dolls, bread boxes, and more.

The diverse Tomato Factory displays continue with those of Fritz Karch of Fritz’s American Wonder. He offers a variety of items for the kitchen, from dinnerware and flatware to textiles, as well as vintage holiday ornaments, rustic cast iron pieces and much more.

John Braun of Dizzy With Possibilities features Navajo Acoma Mata Ortiz and Hopi pottery; also a wide variety of Asian antiques, including pottery and porcelain, vintage paintings, decorative items, handmade jewelry, and handcrafted wood tables.

Donna Bracke is a dealer substitute and has been with Tomato Factory for 11 years. “I help out eight different dealers when they are not here,” she explains. “I can also help the customers if they have questions. They really like everything, and there is always a lot of interest.”

Newest  Dealer

The newest dealer to join Tomato Factory is Jenna O’Keefe of Fireplace Headquarters. Her specialty is fireplace restoration and installation service. Featuring a different format from the other shops, O’Keefe’s location is in the outdoor “Cottage.” Her display includes images of fireplace restorations, catalogs, and further information.

“We go to the customer’s home to see the fireplace, and we can restore and customize it for them,” she explains.  There are so many more shops at Tomato Factory which all feature engaging displays and something for every taste and budget. Small novelties catch the eye as well as high-end furniture, antiques, and art. Prices range from $5 all the way up to thousands of dollars, with everything in between.

As Sloane Browning points out, “You can find the most diverse selection of businesses and products at Tomato Factory. It is easy to spend an entire afternoon among thousands of very unique items for you and your home, and we are all very proud of that. And I am very proud of the business my parents built, which has brought so much pleasure to so many people.”

The first floor shops are open Monday through
Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to  5 p.m.; the second floor shops are open Tuesday through Sunday.

For more information, call (609) 466-9833. Visit the website at tomatofactoryantiques.com.