Horizons Newsletter Spring 2014

New Business: Things are Looking Up in the County’s North-end Retail and Restaurant Sectors

In the aftermath of the most severe recession since the Great Depression, the US economic recovery remains slow and uneven and Virginia’s economic growth remains modest. However, according to the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy’s “Virginia Economic Forecast 2013-2014,” while Virginia is experiencing only small growth, the Commonwealth is actually performing better than the nation overall in numerous metrics. And although the general economy continues to recover slowly and consumers remain cautious about spending, the Culpeper retail sector is showing a modest growth spurt.

Consumer spending in Virginia has improved over the last two years and retail sales rose at a rate of 2.5% in 2012, 2.4% in 2013 and are expected to grow 2.9% in 2014. Recently it was reported at the local State of the Community luncheon by Kelsey Carlson, president of Culpeper Renaissance Inc. and the owner of Green Roost, Culpeper County is seeing growth and retail is gaining momentum. “We’re finding consumers are starting to spend again,” she noted. All this is good news, particularly to the several new retail and restaurant businesses that have moved to Culpeper or will be joining us soon. During the fourth quarter of 2013 Culpeper County saw the arrival of several retail stores and even more are in the works for 2014. Culpeper’s retail and restaurant industries are moving in a positive direction. The following are brief overviews of just some of Culpeper County’s new retail ventures.

While Dominion Square Shopping Center on Business 29 saw several retail closings over the last five years, the final quarter of the 2013 brought several new retail stores including Sports Authority, Rue 21, and the individually owned Comics and Gaming store.

Sports Authority, a large full-line sporting goods retailer, opened October 12th of 2013 in the previous Rite Aid site, next to the TJ Maxx. Originally looking to hire 15-20 associates, they actually have 23 employees on their payroll.

Rue 21, which opened in November, 2013 in what was the former Blockbuster store, has seen a lot of traffic with both families and students. Kelly Evanovich, Center Marketing Manager for Rue 21 is pleased with the response. “There was a lot of excitement around the store at opening! Customers were happy to now have a spot to buy the newest fashion without having to drive to Manassas or Charlottesville,” commented Evanovich. Rue 21 created 15 jobs for the Culpeper area and they would like to be more involved in the community, perhaps with fashion shows, after Prom events and Graduation events.

As visitors to Martin’s or Target will attest, Culpeper Colonnade Shopping Center has a lot of construction in the works. Expected sometime this summer is the opening of Dick’s Sporting Goods, Panera Bread and Chipotle, which combined, will bring roughly 75 to 100 jobs to the area. In late 2013 Hallmark Banners re-opened in the same center, employing 15 associates. Culpeper Marketplace, home to Kohl’s, opened a Jersey Mike’s in April next to Buffalo Wild Wings. The 1,600 square foot store features made-to-order Jersey Shore-style subs, as well as salads, Philly cheesesteaks, chips and cookies.

The retail and restaurant sectors are certainly looking up in the north end of Culpeper,which excellent news for shoppers, employees and the county at large. Not to overlook the Town and south end of the county, which are also experiencing growth. We’ll take a closer look at those areas in future newsletters.

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Culpeper - A Tourist Attraction


Tourism is one of the world’s largest industries and one of its fastest growing economic sectors. Tourism is important to a community as it stimulates the local economy. Tourism development creates linkages between various economic sectors, increasing sales tax revenue and business income, stimulating infrastructure improvements and creating jobs.

The contribution tourism can make to the economic growth of an area is best paired with a sound overall economic development program. In 1996, the County of Culpeper and the Town of Culpeper recognizing the mutually beneficial and interrelated roles of the two disciplines and developed a two-pronged approach: The Culpeper Department of Tourism supported by the Town and the Culpeper Department of Economic Development, supported by the County.

While the County has principle concern with industrial development, the Town has a significant retail commercial base. By promoting visitors to stay, dine and shop in Culpeper, the Tourism Department helps increase revenue for the commercial base and, thus, is a sustainable and productive industry of the County.

Culpeper’s Department of Tourism, located in the Depot on Commerce Street, is responsible for promoting and marketing Culpeper as a visitor destination. Heading up the department is Lori Sorrentino. Ms. Sorrentino joined the tourism team in 2004 as a marketing specialist and in 2011 was promoted to Director. Her background in sales and marketing is an asset to the responsibilities of promoting Culpeper as a tourism destination. She believes in using a variety of means including but not limited to internet marketing, brochure and publication ad development, and social networking.

Recently, the Tourism website, www.visitculpeperva.com, underwent an update and “is now much more interactive and user friendly,” Ms. Sorrentino shared, “particularly for those searching on their mobile devices.” In addition, Culpeper Tourism has a strong social media presence, which Ms. Sorrentino explained covers all ages. Establishing target market campaigns that focus on Culpeper’s differentiating factors, such as Civil War history, is also an important part of the marketing strategy. “A portion of the annual budget is devoted to regional and national publication print material aimed at attracting a certain demographic,” Ms. Sorrentino added.

To help extend the campaign’s reach, the Tourism Department partners with a number of local organizations. In addition to the Culpeper Department of Economic Development, they work closely with Culpeper Renaissance, Inc., the State Theater, Culpeper Arts Council and with Virginia Tourism Corporation (VTC). Recently, the department was awarded a $50,000 grant, in conjunction with VTC, which will be used to produce five promotional video’s featuring the assets of Culpeper, as well as a series of postcards focusing on those strengths. Another project underway, in which Ms. Sorrentino is very excited to share, is the development of an arts website (www.culpeperarts.com) which will focus on the artistic side of Culpeper.

While the recession took its toll on tourism nation-wide, Culpeper has shown continued growth annually. “Despite a somewhat tenuous national economy over the past several years, tourism continues to be a strong economic driver and a vital part of our local economy,” Ms. Sorrentino stated. VTC tracks tourist visits and spending in the state and the new data for 2013 showed Culpeper and its businesses benefiting. “People are still traveling, but they’re watching how they spend their travel dollars more, and changing the way they travel, including staying closer to home. For our visitor spending to have continued an upward climb since 2008, and topped $34.4 million dollars in 2012, is encouraging.”

Discover all the wonderful things to see and do in Culpeper, visit www.visitculpeperva.com

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What’s Happening ~ Another Round for the Gnarly Hops and Barley Fest

Culpeper Renaissance, Inc. (CRI), the organizer and conduit for sustaining Culpeper’s downtown revitalization, has scored big, yet again. Last year, CRI hosted the first ever Gnarly Hops and Barley Fest and it was a major success. CRI is proud to serve up its second annual beer festival this spring. Located in the historic Downtown Culpeper this craft beer fest is sure to be live up to its name. With the addition of 15 more breweries on tap and a wider variety of mouth-watering local food, attendees’ palettes have much to look forward to.

Taking place on Saturday, April 26, 2014 from Noon until 6:00 pm in Spencer Street Parking Lot, the Gnarly Hops brew fest will have over 70 different beer selections. While many are Virginia favorites, like Devil’s Backbone, Starr Hill, Blue Mountain and Wild Wolf Brewing Company, others hail from states like North Carolina, Georgia, California, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Delaware and New York, including the well-known names of Goose Island, Sweet Water, Omegang, and Lagunitas Brewing Company. In addition Bold Rock Hard Cider will again be available in two refreshing flavors: Hard Apple and Draft Cider.

Culpeper, a Great American Main Street Award winner, boasts delicious local eats as well and there are several that will be on hand to accompany the cold brews, including Glory Days, Kababs ‘N’ More, Piedmont Steakhouse and many more. And what better to complement great foods and delicious brews than awesome tunes. This year, Shenandoah Alley will kick off the festivities from Noon until 2:30 pm and be followed from 3 pm until 6 pm by “the genuine songwriting and voice” of Bryan Elijah Smith and the Wild Hearts with a special guest appearance by Krista Polvere. Added for the festivalgoers will be a variety of local artisans displaying unique handcrafted goods, furniture and jewelry.

Kelsey Carlson, President of CRI, is eagerly anticipating the arrival of this year’s beer fest. “Planning has been in the works for months. We’re thrilled to be bringing back a majority of the breweries from last year and welcoming many new additions. I have no doubt that attendees will be impressed with the committee’s craft beer selections.”

Although Gnarly Hops and Beer Fest is a community event it also attracts folks from all over. Visitors to the event can also check out the shops on Davis Street and around town, which is a win/win for all as it contributes to the overall economic health of the county.

If last year’s sold out attendance is any indication of just how popular the Gnarly Hops and Barley Fest is, there is no doubt tickets will go quickly. This year CRI will have 2,000 tasting tickets available and they are encouraging those 21-and-older who would like to attend to purchase as early as possible. Advance tickets are available for $25 and are being sold now at Culpeper Cheese Company, Vinosity, and Randy’s Flowers. Or visit the web at www.gnarlyhops.eventbrite.com. $5 non-drinking tickets will be available for purchase at the gate on the day of the event.

For more information about the event please contact Culpeper Renaissance at 540.825.4416 or visit the web at www.gnarlyhops.com.

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Business Sportlight–Merchants Grocery Company

In 1917 the first jazz record was recorded, the US Supreme Court upheld the 8-hour work day for railroad employees, the Seattle Metropolitans beat the Montreal Canadians to become the first US team to win the Stanley Cup, 10 million US men registered for the draft in WWI, and Merchants Grocery Company (MGC) of Culpeper, Virginia opened its doors in a warehouse located downtown just off East Street. Almost 100 years later MGC continues to make Culpeper its home as it prospers and expands! What is the company’s secret to weathering the tough times and being able to grow through them? “Focus on the long term and provide quality service for our customers, employees and vendors,” states Mr. Elvin V. Smythers, President of MGC.

MGC, a full-line wholesale food distributor, was founded by several Directors from Second National Bank. The company supplies a variety of products to a diverse clientele of more than 1,500 independent and chain convenience stores, grocery stores, and tobacco stores as well as retirement communities and school systems. Originally one of two wholesale companies in Culpeper, Merchants survived a sugar rationing during WWII and went on to open a location in Orange County. In 1956 the Orange County business purchased People’s Grocery Company and became Merchant-Peoples Company. In 1982, Merchants of Culpeper merged with Merchant-Peoples Company and relocated to their current home on Maddox Road.

In the years that have followed, MGC‘s steady growth has led to several warehouse expansions as well as an office space and mezzanine expansion in 1991. However, as Chris Smythers, Chief Operating Officer stated, “When you build it, it gets filled up, and over the last ten years, we have been overcrowded in our cooler and freezer space.” To better project the company’s future needs, MGC conducted a product analysis that took into consideration both the commercial side and contractual side of the business. The analysis forecast a minimum of 15% volume growth.

Armed with the analysis, the company recently undertook a significant expansion. Their cooler space increased from 2,000 square feet to 7,000 square feet. They added 19,000 square feet of freezer space including an 8,900 square foot cold dock and a 3,000 square foot ice cream box. The existing space was “reracked” and outfitted to house the USDA product. And, over the years, MCG has also added 40,000 square feet to the warehouse for dry stock. In configuring the additional square footage, Chris explained that the design allows for additional expansions in the future. “We configured it so that we can add to the remaining 25 acres we have in a functional and efficient manner.”

Adding refrigerated storage has been a strong strategic move for the company.“ When I joined the company almost 42 years ago we did not carry frozen food and we had one small cooler which carried only a few items.” However, in 1973 MGC signed Kraft Foods as a vendor and they’ve been filling freezers and refrigerated space ever since. And the latest expansion has clearly paid off. Even before it was even completed, MCG bid on, and won, two USDA contracts. Almost immediately, the additional freezer and cooler space was filled.

Not only has their warehouse expanded, MGC’s technology and marketing efforts have grown as well. Chris, who spent much of his youth helping and working for the company, joined MGC full-time as the graphics coordinator following his graduation from college. He started the website and newsletter and designed many of the graphic features used in their current marketing efforts. As the company has evolved, their IT and marketing departments have grown significantly. Mr. Smythers credits a “family-like, dedicated staff” to the company’s continued success. MGC holds staff and sales meetings on a consistent basis and it is during those meetings that a great deal of “brainstorming goes on,” Mr. Smythers explained. “We look to the future all the time, where are we headed, what’s next.”

The wholesale food distribution market is continuously changing, from increased government regulations to technological advances in distribution and tracing initiatives, economic ups and downs, to ever-shifting consumer buying-habits. However, by combining a timeless pursuit of value, quality and exemplary customer service with vision, flexibility and leadership, Merchants Grocery Company has not only survived, they have thrived for nearly a century.

Visit the Merchants Grocery Company website.

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Featured Property—West Chandler

West Chandler Premier Development Sites
Eastern Edge of Culpeper Community
Culpeper, Virginia 22701



Near the Intersection of East Chandler and McDevitt Drive
Culpeper, Virginia, 22701

Available: Gently Contoured Land
Size:    45 Acres, Two Tax Parcels
Property Types:

Zoned Light Industrial which allows for a very broad array of site uses

Site: Sites are located inside the Culpeper County Technology Zone



  • Fully serviced to property boundaries
  • Fiber optics available
  • Both sites have had Phase I and Phase II environmental assessments with “clean reports”
  • Located only a short distance from the intersection of US 29 and VA 3 and the Town Center.


Best land development opportunities in Culpeper County!  This well-positioned 45 acre site is exclusively offered at a price of $1,930,000.  The 37 acre tract is available at $1,480,000 and the adjoining 8 acre site at $450,000.  Culpeper is consistently ranked among the most desirable trade centers in the region as evidenced by the major businesses, retail centers, cultural and entertainment outlets, and dining opportunities available.

Contact: Tom Boyd, Re/Max Crossroads/Commercial Division at: 540.812.9033 ortomboyd@remax.net

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