NOTE: This story first appeared on the author's web site at www.rappvoice.com.
Stonewall Abbey Cafe in Sperryville plans to go out of business at the end of February, another victim of a deep recession and a harsh winter that has kept locals indoors and tourists away from Rappahannock.
Co-owner Donna Compton said this week that the cafe in the historic church building on Main Street in Sperryville will close Feb. 28. The economic downturn of the last year hurt the business, and the winter has been “a killer,” she said. In addition, she mentioned that staffing the business six days a week has put strain on the family; both a son and a daughter have been active in the business.
Stonewall Abbey is the second Sperryville Main Street business — and second eating place — to close this winter. A month ago, owner Rae Gaedke announced she would close her Rae’s restaurant at the end of January. At the time, she cited increasing competition — including that from Stonewall Abbey — as a factor in her decision to shut down, after operating a variety of eating places in Rappahannock County since 1975.
The closing of Stonewall Abbey continues a trend that has devastated the options for eating out in Rappahannock. Since late 2008, at least six county eateries have gone out of business — Four and Twenty Blackbirds and the Public House in Flint Hill, ECow, Blue Rock Inn, Pellagatta’s, Rae’s and now the Abbey, which opened less than two years ago.
The Comptons invested heavily in the business, doing major renovations to the historic Episcopal church building built in 1902 that formerly housed The Old Sperryville Bookshop. At the time, it appeared to be a major vote of confidence in the future of business on the old Main Street, but the Comptons found what others in tourist-dependent businesses in Rappahannock have learned before them — that the strong retail months in the county last only from late spring to mid-fall, and the other five or six months range from slow to devastating.
The closing will leave only two active restaurants in Sperryville — Thornton River Grille and High on the Hog, a barbecue cafe that replaced Pellagatta’s Restaurant at the other end of Main Street. Other dining options in the county also are relatively few; beyond The Country Cafe in Washington, the Griffin Tavern in Flint Hill, and Lombardy’s near Amissville, diners face a choice of grab-a-sandwich at a small store or break the bank at The Inn at Little Washington.
Even the famous Inn of Chef Patrick O’Connell has taken extraordinary steps to bid for customers in these slow months, offering a “Local Stimulus Package” for residents of Rappahannock and surrounding counties — dinner at a mere $108 per person, not counting tax, tips or beverages.