Curse of Valley Street? Jimmy's on the James succumbs

Santa wasn't so good to Scottsville this year. After being open for less than a year, the upscale eatery Jimmy's on the James closed its doors for good on December 22. Owner James Norwood, who recently closed a New Balance/Birkenstock shoe outlet in Scottsville but still runs another in the Rio Hill shopping center, didn't return our phone calls (understandably).

But we did catch up with Jimmy's executive chef, Chad Ervin, who was busy at work cutting up the catch of the day at Seafood@West Main. For those of you not in the know, this little seafood counter in the Main Street Market, owned by Chris Arseneault, caters to someactually, most– of the biggest and best restaurants in town– OXO and Bizou among them.

So why was the charming historic town of Scottsville, which is supposedly undergoing a quiet renaissance, unable to keep Jimmy's afloat?

"Demographics," Ervin replies decisively. "People just weren't coming in." With fewer than 600 residents in the village itself, it's no wonder that customers were lacking. Norwood even added a full bar to try and quench (or, more likely, heighten) local thirst, but business continued to decline.

Unfortunately, Charlottesville's rapid growth doesn't seem to be rubbing off on its little neighbor 20 miles to the South. How many of us are actually willing to make the excruciatingly slow (especially if you end up behind a barely-moving sedan) drive down rural Route 20 for dinner? Not enough, it would seem.

And so, at least for now, Scottsville is back to being a one-restaurant town. The Italian-American bistro Caffè Bocce, located just across Valley Street from Jimmy's (also the former River Rat site), continues to do a solid business, thanks to a steady, mostly local clientele.

As for Ervin, who worked at Keswick and Oxo before Jimmy's, he says he's had his fill of central Virginia. After his ill-fated experience in sleepy Scottsville, he's ready to swim in a bigger, or at least a more densely populated, sea. He'll be taking his chef's knives and his talent to some urban area in the near future. But for now, he's happy learning everything there is to know about fish from the experts.

Before he went back to chopping heads and slicing sushi-grade tuna, Ervin offered one final theory about the failure of Jimmy's. "I honestly think that the building is cursed," he says of 515 Valley Street. Buyers beware. But here's something even more scary– or sad, rather: If the number of vacant buildings continues to grow, downtown Scottsville runs the risk of becoming a ghost town of sorts.

As for us, we'll keep our fingers crossed and pray for a miracle. Because the truth is, we'll do just about anything– yes, even drive many miles behind the slowest vehicle on earth– for a really great dining experience, be it fine or fun, local or international. Not even a curse could keep us away. What better excuse for extra garlic?