Under the Roof moving over the mountain

Those walking and driving along West Main this week may have noticed the "Emergency Liquidation" banner hanging outside Under the Roof and wondered if it meant the end for the high-end furniture store. As it turns out, after 13 years at the West Main Street location, those 19 scarlet letters only spell out the end of Under the Roof in Charlottesville.

The entire retail operation is heading to the company's Waynesboro store, which will also become home to its Internet and warehouse operations. "Our building here has been purchased," says Deb Henshaw. "Our last day in Charlottesville will be December 17."

Despite the relocation, Henshaw says the move will mean a better overall experience for her customers. "The cost structure there will allow us to lower our prices and offer more selection," she says. "The drive is easier and more beautiful than trekking up 29 North."

She heaps praise on the River City. "Target, Kohl's, PetSmart are also opening in Waynesboro," says Henshaw. "It's up and coming."

While Henshaw says she has enjoyed Under the Roof's home at West Main, she says she won't feel any twinge of nostalgia once the store relocates. "I've enjoyed being here very much," she says. "I would say that I will miss seeing the same familiar faces, but I plan on seeing them in Waynesboro."

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24 comments

Cville Eye,
I am in complete agreement that the city council needs to make economic vitality a higher priority. However, I genuinely don't understand most of the argument you are making.

I don't understand how increasing commercial real estate tax revenue could "drive a corresponding increase in occupancy rates," or how "Add(ing) in the increases over that period in water, gas, and sewer and the net is negative." What are you netting to get a negative? Are you saying that rising rents and/or taxes are driving small shops out? Or are you saying that small shops are forcing big stores like Sears with more revenue out? If occupancy rates are increasing, why are you worried about the vacancies in the downtown garage and the stagnation of private development along West Main?

The lack of a variety of shopping choices and the heavy traffic on US 29 and on Pantops Mountain is exactly why I travel to Richmond area and Waynesboro/Staunton to do most of my shopping. In most cases I find that the drivers in these areas and employees in the stores are much nicer than in Charlottesville and prices are cheaper. May be it is less stress from driving through traffic or may be they are paid more and the cost of
living is lower? Also, we have plenty of restaurants here but most of
the time I find the food and service inadequate. I travel out of town
and find the food and service are much better. Gas prices are cheaper
in these areas and I can find shoe stores that actually carry a Size 9 in women's shoes! The Charlottesville area also lacks shoe stores.
No super Wal-Mart. I can go on and on and on!!

Actually, I have a friend, neither black nor Latino, who has lived in Compton for nearly forty years and he loves it! Most places fail to live up to their reputations.

"Charlottesville is currently experiencing what Compton experienced in the 1950's: erosion of the tax base. Followed by increased housing subsidies and exodus of the middle class." Joe G., actually Charlottesville experienced that in the '50's and '60's, too. I guess we are Compton.

Eric, I prefer the term Gentleman's Club, but I second your motion.

There's not enough commercially zoned land to accomodate the spill-over either. Virginia may be the #1 business friendly state, but Albemarle County is a business killer.

Cville Eye,
Economies change. It does no good to wish we had Sears et al. back. Those stores either moved to Rte. 29 with its plentiful parking and car traffic or they were pushed out of business by the combination of a loss of customers to stores that did make the move and the rising cost of real estate due to competition from restaurants and shops. I'm not saying this is a purely good thing, I rarely buy things at these shops, but from what I can see, it is the less practical, more specialized "boutiquey" shops that have stepped into the void. According to the city, sales tax revenue has been increasing at an an average rate of about 5% a year for the last decade, so from a tax perspective, boutiques seem to be filling the void quite well.

While individual restaurants go under all the time, new ones have been appearing even more often. It seems obvious to me that, despite all the closings, there are many more restaurants in the city than their were 10 -15 years ago. They are increasing their tax contribution as well. City meals tax revenue has averaged close to 7% annual growth over the past ten years with no declines (this is after you exclude the effect of the 2004 rate increase). Figuring it backwards from the meals tax, restaurants in the city did over $150 million in business last year.

It wouldn't be true of all of the businesses that you cite, but Gleason's, The Hardware Store, and
Under the Roof were victims (or in the case of Gleason's, beneficiary) of the fact that the place where they did business became so valuable. They were either told to leave by owners so that renovations could start or given so much money for the property that they happily sold. Note that the Board of Architectural Review has been talking to the new owners of the Under the Roof building about a four story building on the site. Work is underway at the Hardware store and the Gleasons building has big plans. All skepticism about "big plans" applies, but putting those departures in that perspective changes the story a bit.

West Main between JPA and Republic Plaza will be the site of about $100 million of UVA development in the next few years, including a new cancer hospital, children's hospital and another clinical building. I don't think we need to be skeptical about these plans. UVA is going to expand on that corner. The parking garage is almost finished. Not "commercial" development perhaps, but hardly characteristic of a ghost town. In addition to the plans of the Under the Roof building owners, the BAR has heard recently from the owners of the frame shop building across the street about their own big plans for multi-story addition. When you combine this with the all of the development activity between the Main Street Market and the train station and in the surrounding neighborhoods, I think your characterization of West Main is pretty much dead off.

Okay, I got a little carried away with this comment. I'll stop now.

Sorry for the writing. I've been working on graphics all day and I can't see a lick.

Contrary to popular opinion in City Hall, restaurants are not gold mines of revenue. There have been so many apparently successful restaurants that have closed their doors in the last 30 years, I don't want to take up the space to list them. However, I have seen nothing on the downtown Mall or West Main that can replace the lost revenue of Sears, H. M. Gleason's, Ford-Mercury, Pontiac-Cadillac, Safeway, Reid's and A & P, Ben Franklin's, Downtown Athletic, Woolworth's, Miller & Rhoads, Leggett (2 locations), Grand Piano (2 locations), H & M Shoes, Keller's, Tilman's, Young Men's Shop, Ed Michtom's, Rose's, McCrory's and W.T. Grant, A & N, C. H. Williams, Style Shop, Hawkins, Kauffman's, and on and on and on. W. Main is almost a ghost town and there will probably be no commercial development between JPA and the Republic Plaza. Downtown has vacant space in both garages, along Water Street, Hardware Restaurant, and several of the former store fronts are chronically empty. Hardware Restaurant, Merrill Lynch, A & N, Celtic (something) have recently departed. Restaurants waiting for football weekends can hardly replace these revenues. Local retail start-ups can not afford and chain stores will most likely avoid since many locals that frequent the cetral corridor have and aversion.

I hear lots of anecdotal evidence about people leaving the area to shop, so here's the counter anecdote.
I almost never shop anywhere outside of Charlottesville-Albemarle. Neither does my girlfriend. Neither do most of my friends. If I happen to be passing by Short Pump I might pop in, and I do wish we had a Home Depot, but otherwise, everything I need to equip my life is easily found here. It's not like we're in a barren retailscape.

K. Thomas, you are not alone. So many people I know do a great deal of their shopping out of town, in Stauton, Waynesboro, Short Pump, and the multi-floor shopping center in Norfolk named after a general I think. Variety and prices are frequenty stated reasons for making the trek. Even my mother and her three friends (octogenarians all) hit the road, especially for shoes. This is a huge change from thirty years ago when I occassionally met people who shopped seasonly in D.C. or New York for the more upscale goods. I guess retail profitability requires volume sales and these larger shopping centers and big boxes certainly have that.
With more competition from the surrounding counties and the internet, I hope the City starts to think of the commercial sector when it starts raising taxes and fees and modifying the zoning code.

Joe G., that is one terrible analysis.

Charlottesville already has a greater rate of poverty than places in Virginia such as Norfolk and Petersburg. Most of this is due to many many years of being extremely adverse to REAL business while developing a welfare state wholly dependent on the backs of the middle class.
Also, no foresight at all on infrastructure and annexation has caused
Charlottesville to become STUCK, with the only option being to grow
vertically. Hell, Staunton and Waynesboro are up and coming IMHO, along
with the future City of Crozet. So far the only ideas I have heard from
possible council members are encouraging city workers to walk to work and
solar panels on roofs.

Charlottesville's poverty rate is misleading in that it also includes the many students and retirees who work part-time. For example, the City learned a few years ago, that the JPA neighborhood, which is 92% rental, qualifies income-wise to receive HUD's Community Development Block Grant funds, an anti-poverty program.

I hope they open a brothel in that space. We could sure use one.

I wonder if this particular case is more directly related to the expansion of the hospital along West Main and the corresponding run-up in value of surrounding property. That building just sold for $3.5 million. You have to sell a lot of furniture to pay market rent in such a place. This is going to be an issue up and down West Main as business that require a lot of square footage and/or don't benefit much from pedestrian traffic (tire shop, car repair, equipment rental) get priced out of the WM corridor. I would characterize this as transition to different kinds of business rather than the defection of business in general. Ideally, these business will be replaced by others that generate just as much tax revenue, hopefully more. This has already happened in the main street market. For better or worse, I expect these businesses will be replaced by all manner of restaurant and boutiquey shop.

"The cost structure there will allow us to lower our prices and offer more selection,¢Ã¢â??¬
It sounds like a need for larger space and lower overhead. Hard to find in Chalbemarle. We just keep raising the cost of doing business. The surrounding counties are slowly absorbing more and more of our commercial tax base. Maybe it's time for our local governments to reconsider their policies and priorities.

Then when the economy tanks, so will all of Charlottesville's little quaint boutiquey shops. Then Charlottesvillians will trek elsewhere for the essentials. Charlottesville will then make the vacant high rises into added low income housing or barracks for policemen, firemen, and teachers. Then Charlottesville will sink further into the welfare state abyss.

thank god! under the roof sucks. glad to see it and it's owner's 'tude go away!

Charlbemarle has been a major shopping destination for central Virginia, with frequent shoppers from Prince Edward, Amherst, Campbell, Buckingham, Nelson, Augusta, Rockingham, Madison, Greene, southern Orange, Fluvanna, Goochland and western Louisa counties. As these areas are now welcoming their own shopping centers the result will be a change in retail revenue. In other words, shoppers and retailers can not be taken for granted in the future.

"According to the city, sales tax revenue has been increasing at an an average rate of about 5% a year for the last decade, so from a tax perspective, boutiques seem to be filling the void quite well."
However, the City's commercial real estate tax revenues have been increasing at a much faster rate. This drives a corresponding increase in occupancy rates, which is detrimental to the economic health of boutiques and restaurants. Add in the increases over that period in water, gas, and sewer and the net is negative.
"They are increasing their tax contribution as well. City meals tax revenue has averaged close to 7% annual growth over the past ten years with no declines..." Include here my response above. In this argument, the reason why so many restaurants go out of business is probably more telling whether restaurants prove to be worth the investment over the long run as opposed to looking at the number of start ups.
"...restaurants in the city did over $150 million in business last year." Although there are more restaurants in town than stores in Barracks Road Shopping Center, the sales at Barracks Road are over $1B.
"West Main between JPA and Republic Plaza will be the site of about $100 million of UVA development..." I fully support the upgrading and expansion of UVA facilities; however, my comments should have said W. Main is a commercial ghost town. Martha Jefferson Hospital is moving to Pantops, supposedly to expand. The City did not want to allow it to expand further into a residential neighborhood. UVA's expansion into the City's commercial areas is encouraged by City officials to the tune of over half of the commercial corridor along W. Main will be off the tax rolls. Private development in this corridor (10 Center) has stagnated. Can it be due to the additional costs incurred by the developer's going through an extraordinarily long design process that includes city staff, the BAR, the Planning Commission and often City Council (while the developer picks of the additional architectual design costs) before going back through that process again?
"West Main between JPA and Republic Plaza will be the site of about $100 million of UVA development..." All development is not economic development. None of this described development increases the tax base significantly. Can the City afford to lose so much of its commercial districts and be more reliant upon residential taxes? Aubrey Watts was hired initially as a consultant to answer that question and he said "No."
Charlottesville's economic vitality can not rely mainly upon restaurant and boutique creation. Remember most of their employees can not afford to buy homes or help send their children to college. There are no easy answers but our present Council and our Council candidates are ignoring the issue of future economic vitality in the City.

Okay, I get it now. Thanks. I don't think things are so bleak for commerce in the city, but I agree that the city government is not very business friendly.

Sorry, I have not been as clear as I should be. Actions by Council over the past ten years have made the cost of doing business in the City go up to the point that the business districts along Cherry, downtown and W. Main are lacking in vitality in the retail and office sectors. One indication has been the amount of vacant retail and office space in the downtown area, and the under-utilized properties along W. Main and Cherry Ave. Bank loan officers and realtors have termed this a "soft market" for several years. What can Council do about it? It can stop raising the cost of doing business in the City. The amount of real estate taxes on commercial property has risen exorbitantly as have the water and sewer rates. The business owner picks up every bit of these costs. As people have complained that they can not afford to continue to pay the ever-rising real estate taxes on their homes and may have to move, many businesses are not looking to locate in the City. Some homeowners get a tax rebate; commercial interests are subsidizing this. Along with the call for affordable housing, there should be a corresponding call for an affordable business climate. Developers can not borrow the money to add more commercial space if they can not get tenants who can not pay the expenses. Developers will not develop if the cost of design is exorbitant. Businesses can not expand if there is an arbitrary limit on the floor space they can occupy. This is not Connecticut.

Read wikipedia on Compton, Ca.

Charlottesville is currently experiencing what Compton experienced in the 1950's: erosion of the tax base. Followed by increased housing subsidies and exodus of the middle class.

Then came the gang activity. Are you listening? Watched the news lately? Corruption in the Compton police dept (read The Hook! for a summary of our cop troubles), and so on.

Here's a little tidbit most don't know: Latinos are the biggest ethnic group in Compton. Not blacks. Pay attention, notice our hispanic population increasing?

Welcome to Compton, Virgina.