Big Stone Gap: Where Every Day Feels Like Friday!

Tucked away in Wise County, 12 miles from the Kentucky border, is the Town of Big Stone Gap, a bedroom community of 5,600 that was once reliant on the coal industry like many other communities in Southwest Virginia. The town is a tourist destination, offering unprecedented natural beauty and outdoor recreation opportunities with lake and hiking trails, as well as great food, music and retail shopping. However, it wasn’t always like that. When coal moved on over a decade ago, the initial response was for the town to simply accept its fate. But, with the hiring of a new town manager and six years of dedication, they transformed their community from a sleepy town to a commercial district bustling with foot traffic.

Upon realizing the growing number of historic buildings in ill repair in their downtown district, Big Stone Gap applied for Community Business Launch (CBL) funds in 2022, hoping to attract new businesses and help existing businesses renovate and restore the face of their downtown. Like many towns in Southwest Virginia, Big Stone Gap hoped to leverage the community’s natural beauty by filling vacant storefronts with businesses that were attractive to tourists, such as unique restaurants and retail, experience venues and specialty services.

Ultimately, Big Stone Gap was awarded $45,000 to complete their CBL program, matching $15,000 of the town’s own money toward the effort. At their first interest meeting, they had over 25 individuals interested in the classes, and 20 completed the program in full. Overall, 11 businesses pitched for funding, and seven were awarded, including four new businesses (Sweet Winks, Moon Dog Pizza, Delta Dream, and the Pottery Shop) and three expansions (Far Fetched Grooming, Mac Music, and Moving Forward Physical Therapy). Of the four that did not receive funding, three are moving forward to open their businesses, most with plans to open this summer. Big Stone Gap is also anticipating a new brewery and two new retail stores this summer, and the town has even begun recruiting for a boutique hotel developer.

When asked what the secret was to Big Stone Gap’s outrageously successful CBL program, Ked Meade, Director of Tourism and Economic Development and CBL coordinator, indicated from day one, they made sure to stress that the participants in the program were part of a league, not a competition, and the focus was on creating a stronger community.

“Anybody can award money to a deserving individual, and anyone can teach classes to help businesses be more successful. It is how you deliver both that matters. If you ask people to come together and show them the benefit of community, you will be richer than any grant available. All of the finalists agreed in the end that the education and community they had built was far greater than any monetary prize they could be awarded.”

– Ked Meade, Director of Tourism and Economic Development, Big Stone Gap

Each of the businesses that participated in CBL have taken an active role in supporting each other and the town’s overall efforts of revitalization. One business, The Pottery Shop, is currently creating some form of custom cup, plate or bowl for almost every restaurant in the town, and they even took it upon themselves to activate an overgrown and underutilized breezeway, transforming it into a small pocket park with a koi pond, wind chimes, outdoor seating and string lights for night time enjoyment. Two other businesses who met through CBL are now collaborating on products. Moon Dog Pizza, a locally owned chain in Southwest Virginia that is currently renovating a historic space in Big Stone Gap and will eventually create up to 40 new jobs, has partnered up with This & That Bakery, who will now be making desserts for all of Moon Dog’s restaurants (six in total once the one in Big Stone Gap is open).

“Community Business Launch has sparked a sense of change and pride in our downtown. The streets are full, even on Monday and Tuesday night. People walk down the sidewalks while shopping, listening to music or eating, and it has truly created an entirely new vibe. Because of all the new foot traffic, we have coined the saying ‘Come to Downtown Big Stone Gap where every day feels like a Friday!'”

– Ked Meade, Director of Tourism and Economic Development, Big Stone Gap