Turning the Corner

Sperryville Corner Store owners looking for someone to mind the store . . . and two popular restaurants

Sperryville’s Corner Store/Thornton River Grille complex is for sale.

The Thompson family — Ken and Mary, their son Andy and daughter-in-law Dana, who have owned and operated the 150-year-old country store and adjacent Thornton River Grille and Rudy’s Pizza since 2000 — is hoping the eventual buyer turns out to be among the half dozen or so who have expressed an interest over the years in owning the business and property that anchors Sperryville’s burgeoning downtown.

Those prospective buyers, Ken Thompson said, “had approached us pretty much out of the blue. And we’ve always said, ‘The time’s not right, but if we do . . . we’ll keep you in mind.’ ”

The time’s now right, Andy and Dana Thompson said the other day, for a number of reasons — among them the couple’s hopes to return to Texas soon, and Ken and Mary Thompson’s desire to slow down, if not quite retire. The younger Thompsons hope to start a new venture and be closer to the family and friends they left 16 years ago, when they moved to Virginia to help run the store their dad bought from longtime owner-operator Randolph Clater — a local fixture who continued to work at the store, and live in the house next door, until his death last September.

Though Ken Thompson said the sales price has not yet been set, interested parties might be wise to start their calculations at seven figures. (The assessed value of the property and improvements total about $956,000.) Ken Thompson said he paid $275,000 for the store.

That was in 2000, when Ken Thompson said the family saw an opportunity to reestablish the store as a primary supplier of high-quality meats, seafood, produce, gourmet foods, fine wines and craft beers. Like many formerly essential country stores selling staples and household goods, the Corner Store had been by then supplanted by “mega stores” in neighboring Fauquier, Culpeper and Warren counties.

They also envisioned using previously unused space in the building, and renovated existing space to create the Thornton River Grille, which opened in November of 2003. The Grille was an immediate success and helped establish the Sperryville business as a destination where customers could shop and dine in a great small town setting. In 2006 the destination concept was further enhanced with the opening of Rudy’s Pizza.

The family’s first renovation, though, was to carve an apartment out of the space above the store — which is where Andy and Dana lived for their first seven years in Virginia, raising their son Will, who was born in Texas, and daughter Wynnie, born here not long after the move.

The Thompsons expanded again in 2007, in their characteristic fanfare-free way, with a 900-square-foot addition, the roof providing space for an outside dining deck that, in warmer months, doubles the seating capacity of the Grille and Rudy’s.

“We wanted to make the Corner Store enterprise a destination,” said Dana. And these days, Sperryville — long an after-hiking destination for those visiting Shenandoah National Park — “is itself becoming more of a destination every day,” she said.

Through the first eight or so expansion/renovation years, Andy said, the family invested its time and reinvested in the buildings; in more recent years, he says, the businesses have returned a modest profit.

“And it still has potential for growth here,” Dana said. “There’s untouched real estate upstairs . . . and that’s exciting for someone, because it’s already a profitable enterprise with a wonderful staff — but there are still possibilities.”

Andy and Dana Thompson believe the complex’s biggest selling point — even more than its location, smack in the middle of your windshield at the county’s oldest commercial crossroads — is the store’s and restaurants’ staff. “The way things are now, each person can manage the different business they’re assigned to . . . the place really can run itself,” said Dana.

Andy and Dana Thompson said they hope to be on their way to Dallas before the end of this summer, as their 16-year-old daughter, already a familiar face, and voice, on local stages these past few years, has been accepted at a performing arts school there. Andy said he and Dana originally committed to five years, but then . . . one thing led to another.

“We’re going back to Texas,” Andy said, “because that is home — but Rappahannock has been such a special place to us . . . . The hardest part about leaving is going to be saying goodbye to the people here. We have met and gotten to know some really wonderful people. We’ve made some lifelong friends, and will look forward to coming back to visit.”

He and Dana started visiting Rappahannock in 1993, Andy said, when Ken and Mary first moved to Sperryville; since his parents will be staying here, he said, folks can expect regular visits back to Virginia.

The family, Ken Thompson said, hopes to find a buyer for the Corner Store/Thornton River Grille complex who will continue their tradition of running a successful small business, “will be passionate about Sperryville and Rappahannock County, and will continue to employ the spectacular people who graduate from Rappahannock High School and live in the county.”

Last year, the Thompsons sold Tula’s Off Main, the full-service restaurant and bar they’d built in the Kramer Building on Washington’s Gay Street, and the three-story building itself to journalist John McCaslin and attorney Mark Allen. After the sale, Allen said that he’d “never dealt with a seller of such upstanding character as Ken Thompson,” distinctly high praise from a buyer with the background of one such as Allen — who specializes in real estate.

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