"We thought the other vendors here were going to open up sooner," says Brooks Brothers floor manager Casey Powell. "It'll be nice when they're all open, to have a little competition on the street."
Richmond-based Pasture is one of five new eateries coming to Stonefield this fall.
Photo by Dave McNair
Around noon on a recent Thursday there wasn't a soul walking the pedestrian-friendly sidewalks at The Shops at Stonefield on Route 29, the major county development that opened for business last year. Indeed, a Hook reporter was the only person walking the sidewalks. Nearby, the parking lot for Trader Joe's and Pier 1 Imports was only a quarter full.
Elsewhere in town at the same time, like on the Downtown Mall and the Barracks Road Shopping Center, things are bustling, outdoor restaurant spaces are full, and people are wandering in and out of shops. Over at Stonefield, however, the outdoor areas of restaurants, such as Burton's Grill, Travinia Italian Kitchen, and Noodles & Company, are empty. A few construction workers stepped outside to take a break from building the interiors of the shops and restaurants scheduled to open later this summer and fall – 15 in all, selling everything from jewelry, sporting goods, home and garden products, housewares, clothing, and furniture. Perhaps the streets will be bustling this fall.
We know the Regal Stadium 14 Theater sees crowds in the evening, and during our visit that's where most people were. But the barren sidewalks, clearly designed for pedestrian strollers, prompt the question: will this place really be successful?
Messages left with Stonefield's public relations department yielded no response, but Albemarle County Board of Supervisors member Dennis Rooker, whose district the the development occupies, remains positive.
" I think they are pretty much on schedule with leasing," says Rooker. "The theater has been very successful, the Hyatt Place hotel should open soon, and the apartments in the development are renting."
Inside Brooks Brothers, the high-end clothing emporium that opened at Stonefield in April, one or two customers wander about, and a tray of complimentary bottled water and nuts hasn't been touched. Floor manager Casey Powell is folding clothes in the "Flatiron Shop," an add-on in only two of Brooks Brothers' stores, which features items for a hipper, younger crowd.
"We thought the other vendors here were going to open up sooner," says Powell. "It'll be nice when they're all open, to have a little competition on the street."
Asked about the lack of any people outside, and its effect on business, Powell says it's simply the slow summer season and that things will likely pick up after school starts.
"We haven't even had a grand opening yet," says Powell. "Things were booming when we first opened in April, but then things cleared out, so we're welcoming the opening of the new shops."
Also, as Powell points out, there are five new restaurants opening. Indeed, The Shops at Stonefield might have been more accurately named the Stonefield Food Court. In addition to Burton's, Noodles & Company, and Travinia, which are already open, new eateries scheduled to open this fall include Pasture (a Richmond favorite), Black & Orange (gourmet burgers), Cyclone Anayas (Mexican), Spoon & Berry (froyo), and Parallel 38 (Mediterranean). If you count Trader Joe's, nearly half the places at Stonefield are places to get something to eat, not to mention all the food options at the movie theater.
Nearby, the brightly colored Hyatt Place, a 137-room boutique hotel, is nearing completion. Stonefield Commons, the apartment complex portion of the development, looks largely complete and occupied, yet the luxury apartments planned for a ground floor space right next to the movie theater haven't been started.
Back in 2011, real estate expert Richard Spurzem predicted a possible migration of stores from Barracks Road to Stonefield, and that is happening to a small degree. Blue Ridge Mountain Sports is relocating to Stonefield, but the only other local retailer moving there this fall is Mincer's. Also, Londons Bathecary, which occupies a space under the Water Street parking garage, is heading across town to the new shopping center.
John Schablein, owner of the Albemarle Angler at Barracks Road, says he hasn't noticed much of a change since Stonefield opened, and in fact, he's heard a number of his customers say they're not fond of the new shopping destination.
"There's been a lot of support for Barracks since Stonefield opened," he says.
Still, there's one new shop at Stonefield that's causing Schablein some headaches – the Orvis store scheduled to open this fall. As the only certified Orvis retailer in the area, he's a little frustrated that the company would open a corporate store less than a mile from his shop.
"I guess we've been kind of a guinea pig for them," says Schablein, as his shop has done well selling Orvis products. "But Orvis isn't the majority of our products, and they've told us they're not going to have a fly-fishing portion of the store, which is what we focus on."
Meanwhile, the carefully designed streets and sidewalks at Stonefield, complete with flower pots, lovely wooden benches, and pedestrian-designed street crossings, has the feel of an empty movie set waiting for the action to begin. Will that action begin this fall when the new shops finally open their doors?
"The addition of apartment residents and hotel guests will provide built-in customers for the shops," says Rooker. "This is the neighborhood model in action."