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By RICHARD GOULD rgould@hickoryrecord.com Hickory Daily Record
Posted: 
Friday, April 17, 2015 8:11 pm

Marilyn and John Moretz, and Kathy Ireland along with Hank Guess, cut the ribbon at the Moretz Mills' grand opening Friday afternoon.  (Image: Robert C. Reed)

HICKORY – When you drive past the newly renovated Moretz Mills on Lenoir-Rhyne Boulevard you might see a glass and brick commercial space housing vibrant businesses like a state-of-the-art fitness gym, marketing specialists and a spa.

But Moretz Mills’ CEO and president John Moretz sees something else. He sees an 82,000-square-foot monument to the Whisnant family that built the mill in 1928 and kept it running through the Great Depression, World War II and beyond. It’s also a monument to his own family and their continued operation in the same structure since 1992. But beyond the owners, it’s a monument to the mill workers who made their living there – a sentiment he made clear at Friday’s grand opening gala.

“The American spirit is exemplified in this building and the thousands of people employed here over the years,” Moretz said. “This is a tribute to the pioneering spirit.”

In 2006, the mill was decommissioned and used mainly as a warehouse space until now. The transformation began about two and a half years ago when Moretz decided the kind of revitalization efforts he’d seen from Denver to Charleston, S.C., and Greenville, S.C., could work in Hickory.

Fast forward to today and Moretz Mills has already leased out 81 percent of its available space. The grand opening was a celebration of the revitalization of the city’s south side historic district – a soiree attended by about 200 of Hickory’s leaders and one of Moretz most high-profile business partners: Kathy Ireland.

“This is where our brand was born 22 years ago,” Ireland said, “so Hickory will always have a special place in my heart. That’s why I came here to celebrate this moment.”

Ireland’s connection to Hickory was forged in 1993 when, in her words, Ireland was a “pregnant and aging model.” Moretz contacted her with an offer to model his socks. Ireland responded with the counter offer of a partnership. It was the moment she’d been looking for after years of attempts to transition from modeling to business. Ireland started at her kitchen table with a pair of exceptionally well made white socks with grey trim that stood up to a hiking trip she took with her husband. Now her brand can be found on household items from clothing, furniture and products for babies. And today she’s in High Point at the Furniture Market with six of her partner companies showing off their newest lines.

As for Moretz Mills, it’s come a long way in a short time and many see it as an indication of a kind of business renaissance that’s sweeping Hickory.

“I think the refurbishment of this building, along with Hollar Mill, really opens up this corridor of Hickory in a way that we’ve never seen before,” said local criminal attorney Blair Cody, whose father spent 40 years working in Hickory’s hosiery mills. “It’s really something special for the Highland area.”

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