Saturday, February 19, 2011

Doing Business in Downtown Lynchburg

I have been a coffee drinker all my adult life, but with the opening of a coffee shop, my life became in another sense, "coffee driven." Hence the name of this blog.

My family embarked on this adventure in early 2007. We created the White Hart Cafe in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia, as a place for people to gather, have good food, friendship, and excellent coffee. Much of this dream has been realized. It has been the most tiring and, perhaps most interesting, four years of my life. It has not been financially rewarding, but the accolades from the community are very satisfying. For 11 years prior to this, we had operated a small bookshop in the space next door to our cafe. I believe that Inklings Bookshop and the White Hart cafe make Lynchburg just a little bit of a better place to live. And I'm happy about that.

So in the past 15 years I have been in the middle of the revitalization of the downtown of our small city, and have seen many changes, most for the better.

In 1995, when we opened the bookshop, the block of buildings on the corner of 12th and Main was being refurbished by a local entrepreneur, Eric Spain. Prior to his obtaining them, the buildings had been in an advanced state of disrepair, to the point the city was considering tearing them down. Eric created several retail spaces and apartments, including several loft spaces. Some fantastic buildings were saved, and Eric has continued to buy and renovate property in the downtown. Now there are dozens of loft apartments, many new businesses, and more people are moving into downtown. There are unique locally-owned restaurants. A former factory building is now a boutique hotel with two first-class restaurants. There is an outstanding children's museum, a thriving arts co-op, two local theatre groups, a ballet school, a martial arts academy, an indoor climbing center; and the list goes on. Downtown Lynchburg is thriving once again.

There have been many contributors to the downtown revitalization effort, which has been a creative partnership between private and public sectors. There are many persons who could be singled out for accolades, and I probably don't know half of those responsible for the success of downtown as it is today. But I want to offer my thanks to two that I do know. Thanks to Eric Spain and his wife and business partner Tobi Jaegar for taking the risks. Thank you for your vision and investment and hard work. They led the way, and I believe the record shows that free enterprise, with the encouragement of local government, can be profitable for all.

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