Since the beginning of this year, more than a dozen businesses have opened or expanded in the River District, with more than a half-dozen more expected to follow in the second half of 2022.
“They keep coming so fast,” said Diana Schwartz, executive director of the River District Association.
That, of course, is not a complaint on his part.
“It’s amazing how many people have realized how business-friendly Danville is for small businesses,” he said.
According to figures provided by Schwartz, there are more than 300 businesses with nearly 4,000 employees within a half-mile radius in the River District.
Charles Walker, co-owner of Ma’s Cakes in downtown Main Street, opened the business with his wife, Annette Walker, in late February.
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“We wanted to be a part of expanding the River District area,” Charles said during an interview at his business Thursday morning. “It is growing tremendously. There is a lot of foot traffic.”
That kind of activity is what Susan Moss loves to watch from the window of Moss Mountain Outfitters, just two doors down from Ma’s Cakes. That foot traffic includes not only locals, but those from other areas as well.
“We’re also seeing a lot of outsiders,” said Moss, who co-owns the business with her son, Landon Moss. They first opened at 543 Main St. in March 2021 before moving to 326 Main St., Suite 102 and expanding just this month.
Within walking distance are numerous merchants, he noted, including Lizzy Lou Boutique, Dell’Anno’s Pizza Kitchen, Vintages by the Dan and Me’s Burgers & Brews.
In memory of the loss of Susan’s son, Ryan Moss, in a Colorado hiking incident in 2016, she and Landon started a brand, Head Up Eyes Forward. Proceeds from sales of that brand go to local charities, Susan said.
The River District began to grow about a decade ago after city and business leaders began investing in the area to revitalize that part of the city. So far there has been $50 million in public investment and $252 million in private investment, according to figures provided by Schwartz.
Schwartz attributes the most recent increase to property owners developing more properties to allow merchants to move in and open.
Additionally, Danville is receiving a lot of attention due to the upcoming Caesars Virginia casino, the renovation of the White Mill building on Memorial Drive, and a planned riverfront park.
Additionally, Danville’s main street was recently recognized as one of the top eight main streets in the country, Schwartz noted. The city was a semifinalist for the Great American Main Street Award, which recognizes localities for preservation-based revitalization of business districts and is awarded by the National Main Street Center.
Since January, 14 businesses have opened or expanded in the River District, Schwartz said.
Two more businesses are expected to open during the second half of this year, including an exotic pet store, Bubbles Aquatics and Exotics at 535 Wilson St., and Temptations Gourmet at 208 N. Union St., he said. Five more are also anticipated in 2022, “but they’re not ready to announce yet,” Schwartz said.
An existing business on Main Street, The Brick, will expand later this year, he said.
‘More on the way’
Smokestack Theater Company, officially launched in 2018, just had its ribbon cutting next to Funky’s Arcade and Bar on Lynn Street on July 7. The group had been looking at various locations for a possible home since 2017, before it was officially established.
The group had been hosting shows and other events at the Danville Museum of Fine Arts and History, 2 Witches Winery and Brewing Company, and Cream & Vine.
“Our location is right in the middle of so many great restaurants and other shopping destinations,” said Lucia. “We feel like we complement each other well. What better way to spend the night than dining and drinking and seeing a live show, all within walking distance and in historic buildings near the River Dan?
Within a ten-minute walk you can find more than 50 shops, restaurants and other establishments, he pointed out.
“All of that, plus historic architecture, a river and Riverwalk Trail and so much more along the way,” Lucia said.
As for the River District Association, it was organized in 1999 as the Downtown Danville Association. In May 2015, the organization was renamed the River District Association to complement the city’s River District brand and is accredited by both the Virginia Main Street Organization and National Main Street (Main Street America).
The group includes a volunteer board of directors with representatives from businesses and property owners from the River District, the City of Danville, and other community stakeholders.
Coordinates public-private partnerships to revive the Danville River District. The group works with the City of Danville, area businesses and institutions to develop programs and events for the community to work together; commercialize the assets of the area; get the district in top physical shape; and to attract and retain businesses, according to the River District Association website.
“We are thrilled to provide assistance to our small business community to ensure that they can not only locate downtown, but can be successful when they do,” Schwartz said.
In 2021-22, the Danville group had a significant impact on business activity, as well as business retention and design in the River District.
RDA’s Dream Launch Pitch competition awarded more than $160,000 in start-up or expansion funding to businesses locating in the River District. Over $40,000 in façade grants were awarded to 10 businesses and $45,000 in grants of up to $5,000 were awarded to 10 existing businesses to expand or “boost” their businesses with the Get Boosted grant program.
Charles Walker said the group, as well as the Small Business Development Center and the city’s economic development office, have “made a wonderful partnership” to expand opportunities for entrepreneurs in the River District.
“They have a lot of tools to offer local businesses looking to start or expand,” Walker said.
His wife, Annette, loves to bake, Walker added, and “our business caters to a 1-100 demographic. Your grandmother or grandson loves cakes.”
“We love our city,” said Charles. “This is where we were born and raised.”