There were a hundred reasons to locate a furniture and design business in Crozet, said Kimberly Gale. She named a few: “It’s where we live; it’s where there’s a lot of new construction; and we’d like to offer employment to our neighbors right here where they live.” It seemed a natural fit to the area’s growth, and she dreamed of helping homeowners design and furnish their living spaces as they renovate older homes and populate the newly built homes in area developments. Offering them furniture made in Virginia and displayed at a Crozet showroom would simplify the whole home furnishing process for all.
Easy to dream, harder to do: When it came down to finding a place for Gale’s Design and Home Furnishing in Crozet, there just wasn’t any place that worked.
“There were a few spaces for small retail places and restaurants,” Gale said. “But we needed at least 3,000 square feet.“ The Gales seriously explored the building now named “Mechum’s Trestle” at the intersection of Routes 240 and 250; but at the last minute, that deal fell through. They looked at the former F & R building on Route 250, but portions of that space had already been rented, she said. Ultimately, the Gales found a space in Charlottesville and opened for business in early February (see story here).
The Gales are not the only ones unable to find more spacious accommodations for business use, said Albemarle County Economic Development Director Roger Johnson. He said that two existing primary businesses are looking for 20,000 square feet and 40,000 square feet respectively of Class A office space. “Both of these parties are having difficulty finding suitable office space,” Johnson said. The county doesn’t keep statistics for Crozet separately, but countywide, there’s a business space inventory of approximately 3 percent, meaning there just isn’t a lot of space on the market.
Developer Frank Stoner of Milestone Partners said he’s also found this to be true, despite the existence of some smaller spaces that are shops currently vacant. “I’ve been contacted by realtors searching for larger retail and office properties,” he said. “Their clients are well aware that locating in Crozet would be significantly cheaper than leasing or buying space in Charlottesville.” He expects the crunch to increase as Crozet develops the amenities that potential large-scale employers, especially those managing high-tech companies, find necessary to attract staff.
Right now, this kind of company gravitates towards areas with interesting features, like Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall, he said. “Today’s employees are not like the guy whose first priority was to have an office in a suburban complex with a parking spot right outside the door,” he said. “They want to be where there’s foot traffic and a lot going on.”
Stoner’s the developer of downtown’s Crozet Plaza, and he believes a busy town center with a mix of shops, businesses, offices and residences is a piece of the complex puzzle that will make Crozet more self-sufficient, with less of the workforce facing long daily commutes, and thus less traffic.
Mark Green owns a number of properties in Waynesboro and Crozet, including much of the retail strip along Three Notch’d Road. He said he’s always understood that there’s not a lot of space available in the Crozet market. Although tenants come and go, his property is usually 100 percent leased, he said, with two recent vacancies. “Activity is good and we expect them to be leased before long,” he said.
Stuart Rifkin, the realtor handling the Mechum’s Trestle property, agreed that it’s tricky, bringing demand and allocation to some sort of balance: “There just isn’t enough land allocated for commercial zoning for large retail spaces in Crozet, a bedroom community that needs some services and retail, but is close enough to Waynesboro and Charlottesville to get what you need,” he said.