Business Briefs: April 2021

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Chuck Walker is looking for a buyer for Rockfish Gap Outfitters in Waynesboro. Photo: Theresa Curry.

Outfitter Looks Back on Decades of Provisioning

For 23 years, Chuck Walker has been the man to see about gear for the back country or advice about anything that might come up on the trail or in the water. The long-time proprietor of Rockfish Gap Outfitters in Waynesboro has listed his business for sale, and he’s holding out for a buyer who shares his love of nature.

Walker worked for chain outfitters long before he and his partners bought the store in 1998, but he liked the idea of working for himself. He immediately saw the potential in the business established by Madison and Dorothy McCall in 1987, just a few miles from the Appalachian Trail. 

For the next ten years or so, “I made a little money and had a lot of fun,” he said, and he was able to buy out his partners as the 2007 recession loomed. All along, he could see the business subtly changing, because of both technology and customer preferences.

A good through-hiker’s backpack today weighs only slightly more than a pound—a fraction of the weight of the backpacks of the 90s. Photo: Theresa Curry.

“When I started, they probably sold eight or nine boats a year,” he said. “I sell many times that now.” He’s also seen freeze-dried food become much more palatable, camping gear become lighter, and sleeping bags become warmer, all thanks to technology. By far the biggest change, though, an enormous innovation for all those seeking outdoor adventure, was the invention of Gore-Tex. “Sure, your urethane-covered parka might keep the rain out, but in the end, you’d be just as wet, since the fabric didn’t breathe,” Walker said.

The invention (discovered by accident in a Teflon factory) was a material that had holes much larger than water vapor but much smaller than raindrops, and soon became incorporated into clothing, footwear, gloves and boots. 

Walker also admires low-tech, old-school products, chosen for quality rather than innovation. He stocks Gransfors-Bruk axes, made in Sweden for more than a century; Helle knives, made in Norway; Bertucci field watches, known world-wide for their accuracy and durability.

For backpackers, especially those on long trips like the Appalachian Trail through-hikers, every small reduction in weight is significant. He notes that, with better equipment, a hiker who once carried 45 to 50 pounds of essentials can carry the same gear in a pack that weighs 30 to 35 pounds.

Walker keeps up with new products and also learns from his own experience and that of his patrons, so he’s often called upon to give advice for those contemplating a long journey on foot.  “Probably the biggest mistake people make is to carry too much,” he said. He tells novice backpackers to divide everything into three piles: one for what’s absolutely necessary; one for things you might need; and one for luxury items.

“They’ll need to take everything from the first pile, of course,” he said. “Then ignore the second pile and pick one from the third.”  

What’s Walker’s one luxury when he heads out on the trail? “I pack a frozen steak,” he said. “When I get to my first stop, it’s defrosted and I cook it. It’s always been worth the extra weight on the first day.”

Find details about the sale at rifkinassociates.com.

Fardowners to Open with State-of-the-Art Air Purifier

All of us who miss the food, drink and convivial atmosphere of Fardowners will be glad to know that the Crozet landmark will open up inside as soon as a special-order air purifier is installed.

“This is not just an circulator,” said W. C. Winkler, one of the owners. “It actually removes viruses from the air.”  He noted that logistics would make it hard for the beloved gathering spot to open otherwise. “We’re just too small inside,” he said. “Following government measurements, we would be able to have only three tables inside.” Even when those regulations are relaxed, Winkler said they all feel a responsibility to protect Fardowners cooks and servers as well as their loyal clientele.

The Fardowners tent, shown here from last fall, is up again for the season, and a new anti-virus ventilating system is to be installed inside. Photo: Malcolm Andrews.

Winkler said the system should be in place within 30 days or so. Meanwhile, the tent is now back up and will remain there until October, when parking lot renovation will begin. 

While looking forward to seeing his customers again, Winkler said the community response during the past year has been amazing. “I feel so lucky,” he said. “The staff has stuck with us, people have gone out of their way to patronize us, and everyone has been generous with their carry-out orders.”

It seems there’s more than one mysterious benefactor in Crozet (see “Why,” page 6). An anonymous Fardowner’s fan bought a $200 gift certificate, then gave it back to the restaurant for staff to use at their discretion for people in need. 

“This is what we love about Crozet,” Winkler said. “What a community we have here!”

‘Waynesboro Marketplace’ Planned for Exit 94

A thirteen-acre tract that now houses the vacant Ladd Elementary School in Waynesboro’s west end could soon be a retail destination, joining the mix of box stores, fast food restaurants, gas stations and motels available to those leaving Interstate 64 at Exit 94. 

Bill Mitchener, a Charlotte, North Carolina-based developer, has  formed MP Waynesboro, LLC to develop the grounds of the former school into a complex called Waynesboro Marketplace.

Developer promises more fast food, retail for Exit 94 in Waynesboro. Photo: Malcolm Andrews.

In February, Waynesboro’s city council endorsed a performance agreement that includes Mitchener, Augusta County, and the city of Waynesboro. The school’s ownership is complex: the land has been within the Waynesboro City limits since the property was annexed in 1980, but the school is owned by Augusta County and served Augusta County schoolchildren until it closed in 2014.

Authorities thought they had a buyer in 2015 and rezoned the property to allow retail stores, fast-food restaurants, a hotel and 62 town homes for a project–– also named Waynesboro Marketplace––to be developed by NAI Michael of Maryland. In 2017, that sale fell through.

In 2018, the Augusta County Board of Supervisors approved a contract with Berkeley Development LLC, an Atlanta, Georgia firm. Details were not released and those plans were also scrapped.

Greg Hitchin, director of Waynesboro’s Office of Economic Development, said Augusta County is negotiating with the developer for the sale of the property. Although the County is the seller, Waynesboro is involved since it will be the beneficiary of tax revenues and is in a position to provide incentives for site improvements. The sale price will not be made public until the final amount is negotiated, Hitchin said.

Mitchener plans to demolish the former school and build a number of buildings that will total almost 70,000 square feet. 

Because of the $500,000 required to make the necessary traffic and wastewater improvements, the developer asked Waynesboro for help. The performance agreement passed unanimously by the city council February 22 promises that help in the form of tax reimbursements over seven years. 

Time is of the essence for the reimbursement process: to receive the full value set out in the performance agreement, the developer must have the whole project finished by the end of 2024. 

The first phase, consisting of retail shops, is allowed by right and includes at least two fast-food restaurants along Rosser Avenue, to be completed by the end of 2022. 

Phase 2, planned for the rear of the property, will require rezoning and is to be completed in 2024.

The new fast-food and retail stores to be built were not named. “They’ll be consistent with what you usually find along Interstate exits,” Hitchin said.

The developer’s website notes existing retail clients in currently developed locations that include Verizon, Advance Auto, Sheetz, Walgreens, Rite Aid, and Food Lion; and fast-food restaurants Arby’s, Chipotle and Popeyes.

Currently doing business within sight of Exit 94 are Cracker Barrel, Wendy’s, Golden Corral, Applebee’s, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Waffle House, Outback Steakhouse and Logans Roadhouse. 

Walmart, Aldi’s, Target and Martin’s and six motels are within a half-mile of the exit. 

Hitchin said the first step would be the demolition of the building, then replacement of the water main. The traffic improvements required of the developer will be turning lanes at the intersection of Rosser Avenue and Lucy Lane, adjustments to the median, and some changes in traffic signals, according to the document submitted to the Waynesboro city council. Hitchens said these improvements can be made concurrent with the construction of Phase I to meet the 2022 deadline. 

Meanwhile––also close to Exit 94––VDOT has begun a $1.3 million project to help with traffic congestion in the area by repaving the long-term parking area for commuters and adding a second entrance and a bus stop with a covered shelter. Better pavement marking, improved lighting, bicycle racks, and sidewalks are also part of the plan. VDOT’s Josh Hall said the bus stop will serve riders of BRITE, a bus company operating between Waynesboro, Staunton, and Blue Ridge Community College.

Improvements for commuters, transit riders begin at Waynesboro Town Center. Photo: VDOT.

Local Wines Picked for Governor’s Case

Crozet-area wineries continue to do well in statewide competitions. Two local wines beloved by the wineries that produce them were chosen for the Governor’s Case, a selection of 12 wines considered to be the dozen best among the top winners in the prestigious Governor’s Cup competition. The winners are a Veritas 2017 Petite Verdot and a 2017 King Family Mountain Plains, a blend.

The Virginia competition, held in March, is considered one of the most stringent national contests. Over ten days, a panel of judges tastes more than 500 wines from state wineries, awarding bronze, silver and gold medals to deserving bottles. 

The case is made up of the top 12 bottles of red and white wines from the gold medal category. 

The Petite Verdot by Veritas was one of two local wines chosen for the Governor’s Case in last month’s statewide competition. Submitted photo.

George Hodson of Veritas noted that Petit Verdot (a Bordeaux grape) is used as a blending grape in the rest of the world, and often contributes just a tiny percentage to some of the world’s great wines. It’s a different story in Virginia, he said, where it can stand alone: “Here in Central Virginia we are able to ripen this fruit to produce a smoother, more enjoyable wine.”

Hodson said Petit Verdot has always been the winery’s premier wine, and he’s glad to see it get the recognition it deserves.  “Personally, I feel that Petit Verdot is the grape that can bring Virginia world renown, and it has always been my favorite.”

Despite the publicity surrounding the barrels (from the Troncais forest in Central France) used in making King Family’s Mountain Plain blend, winemaker Matthieu Finot said the oak aging is just a tiny part of the winemaking process. “Every detail counts,” he said, “but in the end what is really important is the grapes.”

Mostly Cabernet Franc and Merlot, with some Petite Verdot (all grown on the estate) make up the Mountain Plains wine. Finot said he makes it only in years that are very good: “If you have good grapes then it is easy to make wine, and my job is just to not mess it up.”

In the three years Finot has considered the grapes good enough to make the blend, Mountain Plains has won a gold at the Governor’s Cup, and it has been chosen twice for the Governor’s Case.

Crozet Connect Continues with Covid-inspired Alterations

Crozet Connect, the Jaunt commuter bus service connecting Crozet neighborhoods with U.Va. and Charlottesville’s downtown, has continued through the pandemic, with extra precautions as well as a consolidated route. 

Jaunt staff member Jody Saunders said the new configuration seems to be working well. Previously, there were two routes: one leaving from Crozet’s east side and one from Old Trail. With reduced ridership, the route combines pick-up from both sides of town, taking I-64 for the morning commute, and returning via Rt. 250 in the evening. There are still three morning and three evening timetables, with stops in multiple neighborhoods adding a few minutes to the commute, depending on where you live. 

A later “loop” shuttle initiated at the request of commuters who wanted to stay in Charlottesville after work has been temporarily halted. 

Saunders said ridership for all has been free since the beginning of the pandemic. She noted that 85% of those using the shuttle are U.Va. employees, and they’ve always traveled at no charge. The university is one of Jaunt’s partners in the shuttle operation, and Saunders expects any future changes to reflect employee needs. 

“Without any fees, it’s hard for us to measure ridership,” Saunders said. The pandemic came just as ridership was increasing and the agency was considering larger buses. To assess Crozet’s needs as more employees return to work, the agency is preparing a survey. 

Increased ventilation, careful spacing, and thorough cleaning of each bus has brought the service through the year with no known exposure incidents, Saunders said.

Saunders noted that JAUNT has a new interim CEO, Karen Davis, who has been with the agency for more than 10 years, and in a number of executive positions for more than 30 years. 

For more information on JAUNT service and schedules, visit findyourconnection.org/covid-19-connect -transit-impacts.

Biz bits

The Crozet Farmers Market will open on Saturday, May 8 in the grassy area behind the RE/MAX Realty Building. Market hours are 8 a.m. to noon every Saturday through mid-October. If you are a new vendor, please call Market Manager Al Minutolo at 434-823-1092 before April 20 to discuss your product, space availability and market rules.

Restoration Crozet closed suddenly in February. The winter Covid-inspired igloos have been removed and the Restoration Crozet Facebook page promised a reopening with a new chef, new staff and new menu March 31. As of press time, no one was available to comment.

At Crozet Pizza, Mike Alexander said the owners and staff agreed late March was a good time to allow guests to dine in, with plenty of room to keep their distance in the more than 4,000 square feet of dining area. The popular downtown restaurant opened inside March 22 at half occupancy and with a requirement for face masks at entrances. Alexander thanked his staff for their forbearance throughout the pandemic and their willingness to switch roles and assist in areas unfamiliar to them. He said the hours, (Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, 3 to 8 p.m.; Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday 11:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.) will change as the season progresses. 

 

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