Vincent Puccio hopes to bring a whiskey distillery, retail store and tasting room to the River District by the end of the year.
He and his partner, William T. Willis, own and operate Dry Fork Fruit Distillery in Meadows of Dan in Patrick County. But they can’t sell their product on premises there because Patrick County does not allow liquor by the drink.
They plan on moving the entire production to downtown Danville from Meadows of Dan, Puccio said.
Danville — especially the River District — is becoming a destination for visitors, he said.
“You’ve got tourism and entertainment down there,” Puccio said. “It all works together.”
He pointed to events at Carrington Pavilion and the farmer’s market as examples. Also, visitors from up North and others passing through come to see the last capital of the Confederacy, Puccio added.
Dry Fork Fruit Distillery makes 100-proof and 80-proof whiskeys, including corn and fruit whiskeys. Flavors include blueberry, strawberry, blackberry and Damson plum. Its products are all-natural with no artificial flavors, Puccio said.
They make their whiskey using a steam process with stainless steel and no direct flame, he said. The distillery produces about 2,500 gallons of whiskey per year.
Sandra Puckett Belcher, director of marketing and tourism for Patrick County, said it was unfortunate that the county could lose Dry Fork Fruit Distillery. The business has attracted visitors to the area, she said.
“It’s heartbreaking, but they are a business and they have a product they want to promote to the fullest,” Belcher said.
Puccio’s and Willis’ original plan was to open the distillery near Willis’ farm in Pittsylvania County, according to a June 15, 2015 article from the Martinsville Bulletin. Although the Pittsylvania County Board of Zoning Appeals approved the location, the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors denied the zoning request.
In March 2014, Puccio and Willis filed for a special use permit to put the distillery at a former body shop on Chatham Road in Axton, according to the Bulletin. However, about 40 members of two churches on the road attended the Henry County Board of Zoning Appeals meeting to oppose the distillery, and the board rejected the request.
The duo later opened the distillery in Meadows of Dan.
Their whiskey is sold in about 38 ABC stores across the state. Two of their products — clear and strawberry whiskeys — are sold in Danville, Puccio said.
In Patrick County, Dry Fork Fruit Distillery can manufacture their products, but cannot sell them on premises, Puccio said. When the distillery opened about a couple of years ago, Puccio thought they could get legislation passed in the General Assembly to allow them to sell on site, but it did not happen.
Since Danville allows liquor by the drink, Puccio and Willis would be able to offer their products at their location and have a tasting room and retail store selling T-shirts, glassware and other bar products. They also would like to hold events at the distillery.
Patrick County Administrator Tom Rose said there are exceptions to the county’s prohibition against liquor by the drink. Primland Resort and Woodberry Inn are examples. Rose said.
“We could never establish tastings up there [at Dry Fork Fruit Distillery],” Rose said. “They were very adamant that they needed that.”
The Patrick County Board of Supervisors had no say in the matter, but sent a letter of support for an exception for the distillery to the state legislature, Rose said.
Rose said he was “extremely disappointed” the distillery could end up leaving Patrick County for Danville.
“They’ve been a huge attraction for us,” Rose said.
Danville City Council voted 7-0 during its Aug. 3 meeting to create a definition for distilleries and allow them in the city.
Planning Director Ken Gillie said Dry Fork Fruit Distillery would not have to seek City Council approval since a distillery would be considered a use by right in the River District.
They have submitted plans to the city, and if they are acceptable, the city would issue permits. The distillery would also have to apply for ABC and business licenses, Gillie said.
Danville Economic Development Director Telly Tucker said he doesn’t think the distillery will run into any obstacles in his office. There shouldn’t be any regulatory issues as long as they follow guidelines for building permits, Tucker said.
Distilleries are growing in popularity, “particularly with younger populations and in urban environments where you have redevelopment and folks moving back into cities wanting more diverse offerings,” Tucker said.
“They’re looking for craft beverages, they’re looking for something that is unique to a specific area,” he added. “It becomes a magnet for tourism.”
A pop-up event this week in the River District generated interest for a co-working space downtown, and owner Lenny Keesee hopes to sign a lease for the old Bobby Carlson studio on Main Street in September.
Between 40 and 45 people visited the pop-up space at 312 Main St. in Danville’s River District, and more than half of them requested sign-up packets by Friday morning.
“Several people told me that September would be better for them to sign leases,” Keesee said from behind the built-in desk in the old photographer’s studio. “That works out fine for us so we can make some changes.”
Co-working spaces are real offices built for entrepreneurs and freelance workers.
Keesee plans to add a full kitchen, move the conference room area downstairs, and add some partitions to the upstairs offices for a slightly more private area.
There is a similar option available in Ringgold through the Dan River Business Development Center, called Southside CoShare.
“I don’t have any problem with competition,” Executive Director Ralph Hogg told the Register & Bee on Friday. “I think there’s a need for that type of service, especially in the River District.”
Southside CoShare offers more support services than River District’s current plans, but does not have the “prime location” that River District Coworking’s downtown office offers. Southside also offers light industrial space for research, development and production of goods.
In addition to the co-working possibilities, Keesee is working on a hybrid membership for photographers to use the studio after business hours and during the weekends. He is also toying with the idea of renting the space out for parties and events. Both groups offer a variety of options for each person’s co-working needs.
“We’re optimistic,” Keesee said Friday morning. “If not here, maybe there’s another place that we need to be in.”
Keesee and Hogg define co-working as the use of a working environment by people who are self-employed or working for different employers.
“I feel like if he can’t make it successful, nobody will,” Hogg said with confidence. “It’s a necessity for Danville. I wish him well with that.”
After Lenny Keesee was told he could no longer work from home, he started looking into creating a co-working space in Danville with his wife, Lacey.
“It’s the bridge between folks running a business out of their home and going into your own dedicated office space,” Keesee said. “It allows entrepreneurs a tremendous amount of additional runway.
Keesee was with a company that allowed him to work out of his house until the company changed hands. He was given the option of moving to Charlotte, North Carolina, or leaving the company.
That’s what made him start looking into a co-working space as a compromise between working from home and working in an office.
He ended up leaving the company before he could pitch the idea, but he still wants to help others.
Co-working spaces are real offices built for entrepreneurs and freelance workers.
“They aren’t committing to a full lease and all the other expenses that go into your own office,” he said. “It’s all the entrepreneurs working together out of a shared environment, and helping each other out.”
Entrepreneurs can rent exactly the kind of space they need — whether it’s a seat at a conference table, a dedicated desk or their own office.
Working with Danville’s Economic Development Office and the Industrial Development Authority, the couple planned a pop-up event next week to gauge interest in the project.
The free pop-up event will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Thursday and from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday in the former Bobby Carlson studio, 312 Main St, Suite 200 in Danville.
“We’re excited about this opportunity, Danville Economic Development Assistant Director Cori Teague Bobe said. “We feel that co-working spaces really add to the entrepreneurial spirit that’s developing within our community. This will give entrepreneurs space to gather and share ideas, and expand and market their companies throughout the region.
“A lot of older businesses have a stigma against working from home,” Keesee said. “We got some traction and some interest, so we figured we’d see if we could do it.”
They hope to have 15 to 20 people sign up to be founding members, at which point they will sign a lease that will suit the needs of their members. Keesee said he hopes to sign a lease at one of the IDA’s properties downtown.
“I think we’re getting close to finding our charter members,” Keesee said. “If we don’t, we’ll probably drop back and re-evaluate and see if we can do another pop-up event and see what we can do.
“We’ll have a conference table set up, a few small offices, etc all free of charge,” Keesee explained. “We want to show people in Danville what co-working is all about.”