Downtown Wytheville’s R.P. Johnson Building is a significant example of commercial architecture from the early 20th century. Robert Payne Johnson inherited his father’s blacksmith shop and wagon factory in the late 1800s and then built the present building on Main Street as a showroom, stock room, repair facility and shipping facility in 1939. During the late 19th century, the firm was known as one of the largest and best-known wagon, carriage, hack and phaeton manufacturers in the South, with a large export business to Havana, Cuba. Its location on Main Street was a testament to the prominence of the business, which helped feed thriving growth in commercial, residential and agricultural development in Wytheville and surrounding areas during that time.
The rehabilitation and reuse of the R.P. Johnson building by Seven Sisters Breweryn won Virginia Main Street’s 2020 Best Adaptive Reuse Award. From 2018 to 2019, Seven Sisters Brewery participated in Downtown Wytheville’s Community Business Launch (CBL) program, Evolution Wytheville. As part of CBL, a representative of the brewery attended a series of business planning workshops on topics like finance, customer service and marketing. The brewery was ultimately one of two winners of the competition’s largest prize fund, receiving a grant of $20,000, which was immediately put to use purchasing brewing equipment.
Seven Sisters was the second brewery in downtown Wytheville and is located at the opposite end of the district. This means that visitors to both establishments (who goes to just one?) will stroll past the rest of the district, potentially stopping at other shops along the way with their children and pets in tow. Since Seven Sisters Brewery is pet-friendly, child-friendly, with a rotating array of food trucks, it has become an important place for people to meet travelers and their neighbors in a relaxed atmosphere.
In its first year, Seven Sisters Brewery helped increased overall sales tax revenue in the district by $60,000 and increased visitation by out-of-towners by drawing people off the interstate. Once visitors are at Seven Sisters, the friendly staff tell people about other shops and locations of interest in downtown Wytheville.
Go deeper with the project in this episode of the Partners for Better Communities podcast with property developer Bill Smith, brewer David Clark, and Todd Wolford, executive director of Downtown Wytheville, Inc. Get it wherever you get your podcasts, or right here.