Rack Room Shoes has become the most recent departure from the First and Main shopping center. For those keeping track — Books A Million, Maggie Moos, Edlerberry’s and Salad Creations have all left the center over the last few months.
Other vacant spaces are lingering in Blacksburg. Some locations downtown sit empty with peeling paint and broken windows, including the old Annie Kay’s Whole Foods and Xanadu properties.
But Paul Lancaster, the vice president of the Blacksburg Planning Commission has high hopes for the town, despite the string of closures.
“I think downtown will rebound,” he said. “I think there will come a point where we’ll be struggling to find space to move in … There will be a natural interest in coming downtown because of the stuff that’s going on … (In) another year or so things will be looking up for downtown.”
Zoning is a main factor that determines what type of business can set up shop downtown. Currently, downtown is commercially zoned — meaning businesses on the bottom level must be retail-based or restaurants, and the top is reserved with residential and office space.
The town does provide businesses with conditional use permits to have offices on the bottom level, but restaurants and retail stores on that level help create a sense of a hustling downtown, said Anne McClung, the director of planning and building for the Town of Blacksburg.
“The trouble with zoning is you’re trying to create an atmosphere that applies to every place in town, and every place in town is different,” Lancaster said.
“I’d like to see something to encourage larger businesses to move downtown and commit to 200 people who show up every day and have the opportunity to shop and eat downtown. How we do that zoning wise, I’m not exactly sure, but it’s something that we need to look at.”
Annie Kay’s previous site is a commercially zoned property for sale. The property, currently on the market for $1.75 million, also includes the adjacent gas station.
Terry McCraw of McCraw Real Estate and Auction Company, is handling the listing.
“The building is in some need of repair. I think the price tag has also kept it from selling,” he said.
The property was originally put on the market in September 2010 for $3 million. And McCraw hopes to see renewed interested in the property because of its decreased price.
“The part people forget is that the ultimate control for what happens to buildings
downtown lies with the property owners,” McClung said. “They control what they want to do and the appropriate leasing rates. There is an element to that that is really independent from the town.”
Outside of the downtown area, First and Main is also experiencing problems.
The shopping center has seen its share of difficulties since opening in fall 2008, partially due to the lack of an anchor store. When the site first opened, there was talk of a movie theater, but it has never materialized.
“I think they are back to needing a bigger draw, something that would bring people into the center. It’s always helpful to have one larger store or a movie theater to act as a draw,” McClung said.
Dhiren Mystry, one of the co-owners of Anytime Fitness, which recently opened at First and Main, said the facility is doing well. However, he would like to see an anchor store move into the development that could bring more people.
The old Blacksburg Middle School site will also be built on soon. The Blacksburg Town Council and Montgomery County approved the site’s master plan, which identifies development of residential areas and commercial space. The site will also be home to the Modea — a digital advertising agency — headquarters.
McClung said the site is not designed to compete with other downtown attractions, but rather complement them.