Changes are afoot in Rappahannock County, and they are not discouraging.
Just two months after the Rappahannock NonProfit Center (RNPC) handed a three-year stewardship of the prime crossroads property back to its owner, comes news that all four former first-floor classrooms of the old Sperryville School House have been rented to retail businesses.
The first to open, reportedly for a “soft launch” this weekend, will be an antiques and vintage furnishings partnership called Monkey Business. Susan McCarthy – speaking for partners (and county residents) Eve Willis, Fawn Evenson and Jen Perrot – said Monday that the group is optimistic and prepared to watch and learn what will work best, both for the new business as well as the county at large. (McCarthy, who has interior design, event planning and serious mom experience, is married to longtime County Administrator John McCarthy – and admits that she can’t help thinking of planning issues along with business ideas.)
Monkey Business will occupy the front two rooms of the old schoolhouse building that adjoins the former school gymnasium. McCarthy says they’ll start by opening three or four days around the weekend. School House owner Cliff Miller says the big room will remain available to those groups and individuals who’d like to rent it, thus continuing both his and the RNPC’s intention that the site also be a community center.
The two other ground-floor rooms are leased as well, Miller says – one to Knit Wit Yarn Shop, which he expects will move from its Main Street Sperryville quarters sometime after the first of the year; and the other to his son, Cliff Miller IV, who’ll be opening a lamp and lighting shop with an emphasis on vintage and antique fixtures.
“It’s a good mix,” the elder Miller says. “I think people will be able to have a good time here. And having those rents coming in will certainly make it easier to be more flexible with the large space.” Miller said the rooms upstairs – all but one leased as offices to nonprofit groups that include Headwaters and Piedmont Environmental Council – will remain as office space. Like the gym-auditorium space, a meeting room on the second floor is also available on an ad-hoc basis, he says.
For many years the site of the old Sperryville Emporium and later the Faith Mountain catalog store, the School House complex was given its most radical facelift six years ago by former Sunnyside Farm entrepreneur David Cole, who added a restaurant and bar, a grocery store and coffee shop.
Not leased yet, Miller says, is the smaller building next door – formerly Antique Tables Made Daily’s showroom, which just recently moved west to rent a portion of the current Sperryville Emporium on U.S. 211 just this side of Shenandoah National Park.
Business developments, however, are not limited to the crossroads in Sperryville.
In Flint Hill, new owners of the Flint Hill Public House are getting ready to open both an inn and restaurant within a stone’s throw of two neighborhood mainstays, the Griffin Tavern and, less than a block away, the gallery store and consistently excellent lunch operation at 24 Crows.
Next door to the Inn at Little Washington, another antiques partnership is renting the former Middle Street Gallery on a temporary, month-to-month basis (the building is for sale). The partners are Dan Lewis and Berni Olson, owners of Ginger Hill Vintage & Antiques, and Ginger Hill dealers Joe Tartt of Warrenton and Bonnie Cole of Culpeper.
“It’s really turned out nicely,” Lewis says, speaking of how the vintage goods play in the older building – which he first rented in the early 1980s, when he started Middle Street Gallery in the very same spot. Antiques at Middle Street opened five weeks ago, and Lewis says business from those who stay in the town’s B&Bs, and head to the Inn for dinner, has been brisk during its open hours (10 to 6 Friday-Sunday).
“If this works out,” Lewis says, meaning even if the Middle Street building is sold, “we’d definitely consider something else in town.”