- Associated Press - Sunday, December 14, 2014

SCOTTSVILLE, Va. (AP) - Finding businesses to fill vacant storefronts is a concern for any community, but officials and business leaders in Albemarle County’s only incorporated town say they have a concern that’s even greater.

They want the businesses to be successful.

“The town, as a whole, is very welcoming to new businesses and in recent years we’ve had a lot of good businesses come in,” said Mayor Jesse B. “Barry” Grove III, an attorney in town. “The problem is that Scottsville is a small town and that creates some unique opportunities and problems.”

Small shops are part of the opportunities, officials and business leaders say. They point to businesses such as Tavern on the James, Baine’s Books and Coffee and James River Brewing as relatively new businesses that have proved successful.

Older businesses providing merchandise and services equal to or better than those found in Charlottesville, such as Doug’s Maytag just outside of downtown, also fare well, they said, adding that locally owned businesses, as opposed to chains, might find more customers in the future.

“What we have working for us is that there’s a drive now toward mom and pop shops and supporting buy local/shop local,” said Petra Monaco, president of the Scottsville Chamber of Commerce and owner of Hippie’s Creations handmade art and Fostered Life personal development coaching service. “It’s a slow progress but in five or 10 years we may see real change in how people buy.”

The town and chamber are serious enough about attracting small businesses that they offer advice on the chamber’s website for entrepreneurs thinking of moving in. The town also has sought and received hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants to put downtown utilities underground, build a farmers’ market and improve the Valley Street streetscape.

“Everything was located downtown because people were not that mobile and when they came into town, they came to Scottsville. That doesn’t happen so much anymore,” Grove said. “We are a town, not a city, and I think more boutique businesses attractive to local people and people from out of the area who visit the river, the farmer’s market or the scenic views will be successful.”

Some of those businesses are likely to be created by younger adults.

“Younger people are moving in and they are more energized and think out of the box,” Monaco said. “That makes a difference.”

“Younger folks tend to revitalize a town, especially a sleepy one by the river,” Grove said.

Scottsville’s charm is also part of its problem. The small incorporated town at a horseshoe bend in the James River is rich in history, so rich that the entire downtown strip of Valley Street (Route 20) is a historical district.

Scottsville is one of the county’s earliest settlements and its first county seat, its economy then fueled by the river traffic carrying goods down the James to Richmond.

For nearly two centuries the town was practically self-sufficient with mills and lumberyards that served the farmers and ranchers in the area, including portions of Buckingham and Fluvanna counties. Goods were transported by river and canal both in and out of town.

That history and the historic district status put some limitations on what may be built on the main strip.

In the 20th century, Scottsville-area residents supported World War II by working in a defense tire factory, later purchased by tire manufacturers. That factory was providing about 100 jobs at the time it closed in 2009. It has since been purchased by area developer Dr. Charles W. Hurt, but remains vacant.

Scottsville officials have no illusions that a large employer will move into the area.

“What big business is going to locate out here unless it’s at the tire plant?” Grove asked. “Our focus has to be on small business.”

“(A big business) is not really practical. The dream would be to bring the raw materials in by railroad and ship by UPS to avoid the truck traffic (on Route 20),” said George T. Goodwin III, town administrator. “There is a railroad spur near the tire plant, so the chance is there for the right business.”

“The problem is the lack of access to an interstate and so much is done by tractor-trailer these days,” said Ron Smith, a town councilor and owner of Ron’s Longarm Quilting Service.

Pam Stevens owns the 7,000-square-foot downtown storefront that for years housed the Dollar General. She said she doubts another store similar to her former tenant will come calling for the space.

“We’ve been looking for ideas from (possible tenants) on what they think would go good in that Valley Street space,” she said. “We don’t think we’ll see another chain come downtown because we don’t have the loading dock or the space they require. We have to rethink.”

In the past five years, Scottsville has become more of a bedroom community for people who work in Charlottesville, Albemarle County and even Richmond.

“That’s part of the challenge,” Monaco said. “People work in Charlottesville, so where do they do most of their shopping? In Charlottesville. But there are plenty of possibilities in Scottsville.”

That, officials say, is true. They note that a newer Food Lion grocery store on the edge of town has outperformed company projections and that the relocated and expanded Dollar General store, once a downtown fixture, has, as well.

“You think of those stores as being 20 miles from home but for someone who lives in Dillwyn and works in Charlottesville, (they) will stop at Food Lion or Dollar General here because, why drive into Dillwyn after you get home when you can stop here on your way,” Goodwin said.

Bill Rhode is not a businessman and he doesn’t live in Scottsville, but the Fluvanna County resident say Scottsville is his hometown.

“I’ve lived in big cities and I feel at home here. The folks in Scottsville are my friends and I feel like a part of the town,” he said. “I agree wholeheartedly with the addition of more businesses that appeal to people like me.”

“We want small businesses, but we want them to last. We want them to be successful,” said Larry Barnett, a real estate agent and property owner. “Filling storefronts is fine, but you want the businesses to last and to succeed and be a future part of the community.”

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Information from: The Daily Progress, https://www.dailyprogress.com

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