Our guest blogger, Zachary Whitlow (pictured left), is a Community Revitalization Specialist at the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD), working closely with the agency’s Virginia Main Street (VMS) program and Rural Community Development Initiative (RCDI). He loves helping communities across Virginia unleash the power of small-scale, grassroots revitalization to build a sense of place and ensure economic vitality!
Recently, I visited the Town of Farmville! The vibrancy of the community, especially its historic downtown where the beat of the Heartland pulses strongly, can’t be overstated. Given that I hadn’t been to Farmville in a few years, largely in part due to the pandemic, I was excited to have an opportunity to tour the commercial district and learn more about how the local Main Street program continues to bolster the vitality of downtown, as well as meet with municipal and elected officials to better assess the locality’s revitalization and/or development priorities.
Upon arriving, I met Jen Cox, Board President of Farmville Downtown Partnership (FDP), and Anne Tyler Paulek, Executive Director of the Farmville Area Chamber of Commerce (FACC) at the Chamber’s office to kickoff the tour of the downtown district. Prior to the onset of the pandemic, the local Main Street program’s former executive director left the organization to explore other employment opportunities. As a result, FDP strategically partnered alongside the FACC to oversee day-to-day operations, while the board successfully implemented the organization’s comprehensive work plan and sought to ensure FDP met the needs of small businesses during challenging times.
The tour of downtown Farmville began at the site of the soon-to-be Innovation Hub / makerspace that will be a part of a larger network of similar facilities in Southern Virginia that seek to foster economic growth and support entrepreneurship in the region. Key stakeholders, such as Longwood University, Hampden-Sydney College and Mid-Atlantic Broadband / SOVA Innovation Hub, have been working diligently to ensure the future Hub serves diverse populations and elevates opportunities for local and regional users. The community-facing space in Midtown Square, a mixed-used retail and student residential complex that once housed Barnes and Noble at Longwood University, will encourage users to be explorative and resourceful, while also emphasizing connection and relationship-building as a key element of success. I look forward to seeing how this exciting new space will spark meaningful economic transformation in Farmville and Southern Virginia!
Given that Jen, Anne Tyler and myself would be walking for a couple hours, we decided to fuel up at Uptown Coffee House & Cafe, a family-owned business that enjoys bringing the community together through coffee, food and live music. The cafe, which opened in 2014 remains a staple in downtown Farmville and has become more than just a successful business, but rather a cherished social gathering space for residents, students and others. In the mood for something refreshing, I ordered a tasty strawberry smoothie! Whenever I return to Farmville, I’ll definitely go back to try other delicious menu items!
Other than Uptown Coffee House & Cafe, I was glad to have an opportunity to visit a few more businesses and say hello to downtown merchants. We first stopped at Pairet’s, a family-owned and operated business specializing in custom screen printing. Apart from running a successful business, Thomas Pairet, owner, has served on Farmville Town Council for more than a decade, and his passion for service and ability to connect people has inspired others to support the community. After checking out Pairet’s, we popped in to see Caryn Kayton, owner of Caryn’s Bridals, Formals & Tuxedos, central Virginia’s premier bridal and formalwear salon. For over 30 years, Caryn and her team have helped to provide the perfect mix of style, selection and value to clients, and the business has grown to become a strong downtown anchor.
Speaking of popular downtown businesses, Mainly Clay remains a unique establishment that features a gift shop, which showcases handcrafted products by local artists, and pottery studio where you can sign-up for a class or one-day workshop to throw some clay and craft your own beautiful gift. Pam Butler, owner, has an immense appreciation for the arts and downtown revitalization, and she continuously supports the community through her words and deeds. Another community changemaker can be found at the Sleeping Bee, where Jimmy Johnson, owner, has worked to create one of the best collections of distinctive gifts, personal accessories and home décor in downtown Farmville. Here, you’ll find something unique for every occasion and all seasons, and I’m definitely making another visit when it’s time to purchase Christmas gifts!
While the commercial district features a diverse retail mix, there’s also plenty of things to do and see in Farmville! Undoubtedly, The High Bridge Trail, a 31-mile State Park, remains a popular attraction. The park’s centerpiece is the majestic High Bridge, which is more than 2,400 feet long and 125 feet above the Appomattox River. It’s perfect for cycling, and residents and visitors alike should check out The Outdoor Adventure Store, which is conveniently located on / next to the High Bridge Trail, for bicycle rentals and other outdoor apparel and equipment. The recreation business and trail entryway are also located next to the gorgeous LOVEwork in downtown Farmville, making for the perfect photo op!
On the topic of photo ops, don’t leave downtown Farmville without getting your picture taken with the trolls (don’t feed them) under High Bridge on Mill Street, which were painted by Audrey Sullivan, the founder of Red Door 104, a studio / art gallery space on North Main Street. As you stroll along Main Street, you’ll also find a beautiful pair of butterfly wings that’ll no doubt appear on your Instagram feed after you snap your picture!
After an eventful morning, the day concluded by meeting Dr. Scott C. Davis, Town Manager, and David E. Whitus, Mayor, for lunch at North Street Press Club, a fantastic restaurant that serves up a fun, relaxing environment in the heart of downtown Farmville, where I enjoyed a delicious Reuben sandwich (press club style). It was great to connect with local leaders and hear their perspective on how to tackle district challenges and ensure Farmville’s local Main Street district remains a viable downtown that positively contributes to the economic health and civic pride of the entire community.
Since I can’t cram everything into a single post, I encourage those that haven’t visited downtown Farmville (or those eager to return) to experience the vibrancy of the community. Whether your seeking adventure or looking to buy some new furniture at Green Front, a world-class furniture store that stands out from the crowd, there’s something for everyone to enjoy. Based on my observations and conversations had with local leaders, opportunities for new growth and development are abound, and I’m certain we’ll be hearing a lot more about Farmville and its nationally accredited Main Street™ program in the coming months and years. Stay tuned!