Reports of the death of Rappahannock Central have been greatly exaggerated.
The former apple packing house and antiques emporium on Sperryville’s River Lane is not shutting down – “not even remotely” – says Lucille Niessen, one of the owners of the sprawling home of several well-received concerns. These include a new artists cooperative known as River District Arts, an older, recently relocated one called Middle Street Gallery, a farm-products store now called Farm to Fork Market that’s actually having its grand opening this weekend, and the impressive but controversy-prone restaurant Cafe Indigo.
“Cafe Indigo is up for lease,” said Niessen Tuesday of the restaurant, closed since the start of the year. “That’s not to be confused with the building being up for sale, which it is not.” Niessen was responding (at a reporter’s request) to reports that she and her husband, Jerome Niessen, who oversaw the building’s renovation last year, were moving to California and “selling off everything.”
“I think the most important thing to say,” she said, “is that our intention with the building is the long-term continuation of Rappahannock Central. And that everything we are doing, we’re doing as a family. These are decisions we’re making together.”
The couple will, she said, “become kind of bicoastal for a while” – as she departs soon for Southern California, where close family and a school for the couple’s young son await, and Jerome Niessen spends more time locally to manage the transition. The transition is away from day-to-day involvement with the businesses at Rappahannock Central, Lucille Niessen says – “something it was never our intention to do, it just happened out of necessity” – to being “good landlords.”
The Rappahannock rumor mill was working overtime on this one – no doubt influenced by its recent history of sudden, discouraging departures by large concerns and community-minded entrepreneurs – David Cole and his Sunnyside mini-empire, for instance, and Oasis CD, and even the closing of the county’s largest private employer, the Aileen clothing factory, in the early 1990s.
Reminded of the history, Niessen said. “Well, hopefully everything we tried to foster and create and incubate here is meant to go on a lot longer than you or I will be standing here. It doesn’t need to carry our names on it. It’s part of the county that we love, and that we’re part of and – even if we’re bicoastal – we’ll still be a part of. Rappahannock is important to us.”
Niessen said she’s optimistic that Cafe Indigo – which informed its employees last week that it would not be reopening – will reopen under new management soon, even within the next month or two.
Patti Brennan, president of the artist cooperative Middle Street Gallery, which moved from downtown Little Washington to Rappahannock Central a few months ago, said the success of the building’s artist-related ventures overshadows any restaurant news.
“It’s neat how it’s all falling together, with or without the restaurant,” she said. “I mean, whatever happens to the restaurant is . . . whatever happens to the restaurant. We can still be a really thriving arts center, and farm store. And, being an artist both at River District and also a member of Middle Street, to get to see it from different perspectives, and I see how much camaraderie and community this is all about. I know this was Jerome’s initial idea. And I still think it can happen.
“The most important thing,” she added, “is that we keep working on a positive note forward and embracing the great opportunity that we have here.”