Destination: Main Street - Building owners aim to revitalize downtown

The Warren Sentinel

FRONT ROYAL — When the Lucky Star Lounge closed nearly 11 months ago, it left more than a vacant storefront on East Main Street.

"This was the hangout," East Main Street resident Rhianon MacDonald said. "We met there at least once a month."

Likewise, Tim and Kerry Barnhart noticed a dearth of evening activity once the movies let out on their date nights.

"We've often thought to ourselves, maybe after we had dinner, we'd walk around and shop," she said. "There's nothing open."

For a year and a half, the Barnharts, retirees from a management consulting firm and a Fortune 50 company, kept saying, ìwouldnít it be great if somebody did something?î Kerry Barnhart said. "And then, one day, we said, 'maybe we should do something.'"

They created Vibe Properties LLC, which recently purchased two buildings, 120-124 E. Main St. and the Weaver Building at 205 E. Main St. that housed the Lucky Star. Their plan is to fix the buildings up into vibrant places that provide enjoyable experiences for downtown visitors.

With their buildings, Barnhart said she and her husband hope to continue the efforts of the partnership of Mike Silek, Donnie Poe and John Marlow, which renovated the Frankís building that now houses Element restaurant, and Christian and Rachel Failmezger, owners of PaveMint Taphouse and Grill, a ìfarm-to-streetî brew-pub in a renovated 1960s gas station around the corner on South Commerce Avenue and adjacent to the Happy Creek Trail.

The Barnharts werenít looking for just any buildings. They needed buildings with multiple storefronts so they can house multiple destinations for downtown shoppers. When renovations are finished, they will have six storefronts in the two buildings. Having multiple stores and restaurants open is crucial to creating enough variety for shoppers to consider downtown a viable destination, she said.

The businesses also will be open for date nights, as their leases include minimum hours that they have to be open, Barnhart said.

The businesses that will open in the buildings were selected based on their potential to create a destination for downtown shoppers, Barnhart said.

Main streets of the 20th century were utilitarian, she said, featuring hardware stores, department stores and other such businesses. The modern main street is more about creating experiences, with a variety of destinations that are as much about entertainment as they are about retail.

At 120-124 E. Main St., Down Home Comfort Bakery recently reopened after renovations to its part of the building. The Vine and Leaf wine and tea bar also has renovations in its future and will remain in the building, she said.

Workers from Whittington Construction of Front Royal now are getting the building ready for two new tenants, a Mountain Trails outdoor store and the Front Royal Brewing Co., a microbrewery-restaurant that will feature live music.

The latter news excited MacDonald, who said she has had to travel to Winchester to hear live music when it wasnít available at the Gazebo or the Moose Lodge.

The outdoor store, a branch of the Mountain Trails store in Winchester, will open in the former Outkast Wrestling Club storefront. The wrestling club has relocated to John Marshall Highway.

The former auction hall at the rear of the building is being renovated for use as a brewery-restaurant. The renovations are quite extensive, including new wiring and plumbing, even an upgraded tap into the town water system to provide the volume of water a brewery needs.

Like PaveMint, the restaurant will use local produce; in this case, it will be grown on John and Brittany Duvallís farm in Linden. John Duvall really doesnít view it as brew pubs competing with each other as much as providing more variety for people who come downtown.

"It's not competition. It's a movement," he said.

For now, all of the renovations are taking place inside the building, but that will change in a week or two. The yellow-and-white-striped exterior will soon get a makeover.

"It's kind of a throwback to the strip mall, kind of the '70s, which is when it was built," she said.

The Weaver building is more historic, designed by architect John Sloan of New York. The neoclassical building housed Weaverís Department Store until 1978, when Peebles and Co. bought the business and moved it to Royal Plaza.

That building also will be renovated, but with a goal of maintaining its historical nature, Barnhart said. Once the renovations are complete, it will house an art gallery and a Thai restaurant.

The owners of the art gallery, Tiffany and Mike Budzisz, have experience in marketing and merchandising. They will be working with Vibeís tenants ó along with the Barnharts themselves — to provide tenants with coaching in areas such as management, marketing and merchandising.

The Barnharts are not the only ones looking to transform Downtown Front Royal into a popular destination. Rob McDougallís TransForm Development is renovating 118 E. Main St. and also recently bought the Goldsmithís Fine Jewelry building at 216-218 E. Main St.

"One of our initial goals is to be part of the revitalization of Downtown Front Royal," TransForm Principal Bob McDougall said.

TransForm's stated goal is to revitalize Warren, Frederick and Shenandoah counties and the City of Winchester through commercial investment. Interior renovations are under way at 118 E. Main St. and are planned for the Goldsmithís building. Exterior upgrades also are planned for both buildings, McDougall said.

"I have very high hopes for what Front Royal could continue to be," McDougall said. "It has so much going for it already."

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