Many Americans may still have to go out of their way to find encouraging economic news, but certain Rappahannock County entrepreneurs are going about quietly making their own.
Thus Ken Thompson, who owns the Kramer Building on Gay Street in Washington, has been quietly lining up clients over the last month for a telecommuting center there – six-days-a-week flexible office space with broadband internet access, cell phone service for the three largest carriers and enough space to suit two or three desks, or one desk and a few filing drawers, or just a laptop and the seat of your pants on a comfortable sofa.
Thus he has signed an agreement with a former Starbucks manager who will open a coffee shop downstairs.
Thus the owner of the former Faith Mountain headquarters on U.S. 211 at Rock Mills Road plans a multiple-dealer antiques mall in the space vacated by retiring custom-homebuilder Peter Kreyling, reportedly to be managed by one current tenant (Ginger Hill Antiques owners Berni Olson and Dan Lewis) while the other tenant (Mountainside Physical Therapy) has plans to expand its space for movement classes and other offerings.
Thus the founders of Virginia Chutney Co. – a successful, locally owned boutique-food enterprise that now has its products made at commercial cooking facilities in Pennsylvania – have signed a lease (according to landlord Alex Sharp) to move those facilities, plus a showroom and offices, into some 8,500 square feet of the sprawling former Aileen Plant in Flint Hill.
Thompson held an open house last month in what was then a not-yet-furnished space for his telecommuting center, primarily to determine what sort of demand there might be for such a place in the county. Nearly 50 showed up; one of them, Keir Whitson of Washington, was already taking his laptop to Thompson’s offices to work.
“Unofficially, I guess, I was his first customer,” said Whitson, who shares a home in Harris Hollow with his wife, a two-and-a-half-year-old and a seven-month-old. Though he’s not an attorney, Whitson works for a global law firm’s international trade practice group – work that he, like many, is increasingly expected to complete without actually being . . . seen.
“If you’re busy and you have stuff to knock out,” he says, speaking of commuting to D.C., “sitting in the car for potentially four hours round-trip doesn’t really work. People are starting to get that.”
Whitson says there are two reasons he was interested in the Kramer Building space built by Thompson – who with his son, Andy, has transformed Sperryville’s crossroads country-store complex into three flourishing businesses over the last decade.
“One, I know he’s not going anywhere, and I know he does things properly, so it’s not risky . . . and two, we live too far out in the [hollow] to have any chance of high-speed internet.” In addition to the distractions of working at home, Whitson says, if he’s there, callers have to call his home number. If he’s at a center like Thompsons, broadband internet allows him to foward his work phone to a internet-phone service, so the calls come in on his laptop.
“Plus,” he said, “it’s so nice to commute just seven minutes down Harris Hollow Road – dodge a bear, dodge a squirrel, and then you’re at work.”
Thompson said the monthly costs for space in the center would range from $250 for a cubicle to $450 for one of the larger offices carved out of what used to be an apartment on the second floor – space that now includes a common area with its own kitchen, lounge and flat-screen TV. Access to the “social area” is included with monthly agreements, Thompson said, and he’s also considering opening it to “a limited number” of “club” members, who’ll pay a monthly $50 fee for internet access and a place to sit – though no permanent space.
Thompson says he has also signed an agreement with a woman who has managed several large Starbucks, and who “seems to have the right idea of what should be done with this space,” to operate a cafe in the Kramer Building’s sidewalk-level space that was Kramer’s showroom – a space partially filled with the fixtures Thompson bought from the former Stonewall Abbey cafe when it closed two years ago not far from the Thompsons’ Corner Store in Sperryville.
Pending meeting the town’s requirements and permissions, Thompson said, the new cafe would open early to serve coffees – espressos, capuccinos and various other brews – and pastries, and offer made-to-order sandwiches and salads at lunch. Eventually, Thompson said, it would hold an ABC license for beer and wine. It would open evenings, he said, when there’s an event at the Theatre at Washington, which is across the street, or at the RAAC Community Theatre.
Over on U.S. 211 near the high school, Ginger Hill Antiques co-owner Olson, who also heads the Rappahannock Hospitality and Visitors Association this year, says that building owner Greg Yates (who could not be reached for comment) plans to build an antiques “mall” in the facility’s large unoccupied space, eventually for as many as 20 to 25 dealers. She said Lewis and she have talked to Yates about running the new space, which would be connected to their Ginger Hill space by a doorway.
“We’re very happy,” said Olson. “It’s something coming in that’s completely in-line with what we do here, and it’s retail, and that’s what we need here.”