Thursday, May 21, 2015

Photographer brings studio to River District

Bobby Carlsen Photography announced this week its plans to locate to the Atrium Building at 312 Main St. in the River District.
Carlsen, an international award-winning photographer, has served the Southern Virginia and greater Piedmont regions for over 10 years and offers photography and design services for businesses, and portraiture for newborns, children, high school seniors, and families.
“Relocating to the River District has been a key component of our long-term plans for the past few years,” said Carlsen. “It strategically positions our company in the heart of Danville’s rapidly growing professional area and will help us foster stronger relationships within our community, especially for clients of our commercial photography division. Our portrait clients will also enjoy enhanced services and experiences due to both the location and unique characteristics of the space.”
Corrie Teague, assistant director for the Office of Economic Development, explained that the city’s development plan was to fill not only street level storefronts, but all floors of buildings in the River District, noting the positive outcomes they can have on lower floor tenants.
“We are thrilled that Bobby decided to locate his studio to the River District,” said Teague. “This project will bring clients into the River District that might not have frequented this area before. We anticipate that the street level restaurants and retailers will directly benefit from the traffic that this studio and other upper floor businesses will generate.”
The new 3,500 square-foot, multi-level studio has a Main Street entrance and will include a reception area, galleries, a traditional strobe-light photography room, offices, a cathedral skylight atrium, and a large floor-to-ceiling natural light photography room on the building’s third floor.
“We are especially excited about our renovations of the Atrium building,” said Carlsen. “Its architecture, design and beautiful arching Main Street windows are an exceptional fit for our studio, which will feature several gallery areas including one showcasing the history of the building and lower Main Street. We have taken great care to retain the character and charm of the space and now residents will be able to better appreciate one of Main Street’s most beautiful buildings.”
In addition to operating his studio full time, Carlsen is an educator and speaker regularly contracted to address other professional photographers at conventions and meetings around the nation. He is actively involved in several professional organizations, and is an area coordinator for the non-profit organization Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep.
Carlsen plans to open the studio this summer.
For more information about Bobby Carlsen Photography visit www.bobbycarlsen.comor contact the studio at or (434) 836-6042.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Magical hub rode retail wave

For decades, downtown Danville was the place to be. After reaching a peak of activity in the 1950s and 1960s, the city’s center shifted away from downtown to outlying shopping centers.
“It was the center of commerce for a 30-, 40-mile radius,” Rippe’s owner Ben Rippe said. “There was at least a restaurant on every corner. There were hotels on almost every block and sometimes two.”

Rippe’s has operated in downtown Danville since around 1907. It was just one of the many stores that filled every space in downtown Danville.
“You had fine department stores and you had modern department stores,” he said.
Danville residents who were youths at the time recall toy stores, hardware stores, women’s specialty shops, jewelry stores and movie theaters. In addition to those, many professional offices for doctors, lawyers and more were located in second floor spaces above shops.
Rippe remembered his father’s story of the first spot for the family store. Rippe’s father and his banker walked up and down Main Street, seeking any open spot. They only found a 20-25 foot-wide alleyway.
“My point is it was so booming that was the only space,” Rippe said. “So much real estate everywhere was taken.”
That space eventually grew to take over vacated adjoining properties. Rippe remembers sitting high up on a ladder and watching the bustling activity of the store and downtown area. In a few years’ time, that scene changed entirely.
“It slowly changed with the shopping centers like the rest of America. The center of the city got less important,” he commented. “So I kept thinking maybe I’d go out to the mall and every time I decided to stay downtown. One time we were the only anchor left.”
Barry Koplen, whose family founded Abe Koplen Clothing Company, one of the oldest merchants in downtown Danville, was a teenager during the 1960s. He remembers Danville as a place for young and old, filled with ways to spend your days.
In exchange for household chores, he received an allowance of 21 cents and a couple bus tokens. With that, young Koplen was able to hit the movies on Saturday mornings. His favorites were the “Tarzan” and “Lone Ranger” movies.
“Downtown Danville was a very vital place. The thought about anything that might challenge the centrality of downtown Danville was remote,” Koplen stated.
The restaurants dotting every block and corner were not simple Southern cooking establishments. Instead, they were wide ranging, from Jewish food restaurant Eric’s Delicatessen to a Greek food restaurant. The Downtowner had a happening nightclub that was considered a hot spot for nights on the town.
“You really didn’t have to leave Danville to find whatever entertainment there was,” he said.
Danville offered more than places to spend money. It also had a unique feeling and spirit about it. Koplen recalls his father saying he would ride the trolley for the entire line, just to watch the city in its splendor.
“There was this incredibly sweet tobacco smell that just infused the air. There was something special about that. When that time came, it oftentimes coincided with the time when the fair would come to town. There were just some magical moments like that,” Koplen said.
Soon developers spread out away from Downtown with Nor-Dan, Riverside or Sherwood Shopping Centers. One of the biggest motivators in the move away from Danville’s downtown was the introduction of the Piedmont — now Danville — Mall.
In preparation for construction of Piedmont Mall, a study was conducted on the effects of a shopping center that size. The results weren’t promising and proved to be a forewarning for the historic center.
“The impact study was eventually done and it showed that Main Street would be decimated,” Koplen recalled. “This was a huge attraction and continued to be for quite some time. They were able to offer in the mall just things that were not possible in the Main Street, downtown setting. Without going outside you could go to a restaurant. It was unique. It had that appeal. It did pretty much decimate downtown.”
Danville Economic Development Consultant — and former mayor and council member — Linwood Wright remembers his time as a young child in downtown Danville. Wright recalled when large department stores like Sears and Belks were found only in downtown. Those days are over and likely won’t ever be seen in the same setting again.
“An anchor department store downtown makes absolutely no sense [in downtown Danville today]. An anchor department store may not make sense anywhere with online shopping. Things have changed and will continue to change,” Wright observed.
Retail in general underwent a transformation after the 1950s and 1960s. Wright remembers a trip to the grocery store only involving waiting for items to be assembled by the shopkeeper. Individual customers weren’t the one’s picking up items off shelves. They only waited and paid.
Equally, merchants would visit larger markets to purchase new store merchandise. There they might find an item suited for a particular individual. Upon return to the store, shopkeepers would contact the customer they had in mind and usually make a successful sale.
“There was more interaction with the merchant. Things were more personalized,” Wright said. “Personalized, individual service has tended to morph into self-service.”
This evolution of downtown Danville may have been crippling for businesses and professionals located there, but they were certainly not alone in their suffering.
“The vacation of Main Street downtown Danville as a shopping center was absolutely not unique to Danville. It happened in every city in the United States with the possible exception of the few largest cities that continued to have a vital downtown area and by largest I mean New York, Chicago and Los Angeles,” he said.
The changes were not immediate. It took about 25 years for the downtown exodus to run its course and another 25 years for the revitalization of downtown, Wright estimated. However, the River District likely will never regain the same strength it had. As for the reason behind the shift, it was an innovative way to live.
“I think it was just a fashion change. It was new. It was different. People like change,” he said. “I thought it was a good thing when Danville began to get shopping centers. I was excited about them all because that was the thing. Any successful retail climate had them all.”
Looking into Danville’s future, it’s challenging to guess the direction of consumer wants and dislikes. Like the rest of life, the only thing that is constant is change.
“Most of the time, consumers embrace change. It’s one of the few areas of life where we do embrace change, but we like to think that we are participating in the newest and greatest,” Wright stated.
The number of residents filling up former tobacco warehouses and vacated professional spaces is growing. Developers are noticing the momentum and new restaurants and stores are popping up in long-abandoned spaces.
In Koplen’s opinion, this will create a cycle of growth.
“All of the sudden you have a population downtown that’s pretty much demanding that there are businesses downtown that can cater to them,” Koplen observed. “I think that’s why people have gotten past the idea of shopping malls being the attractive place to go, especially if they have some place they can walk to without getting in their car. Now downtown is starting to create that type of environment.”

It all started with the river!


(434) 791-7987

In the 18th century, the Dan River was the heartbeat of what was to become Danville.
In his book, “Pittsylvania County: A Brief History,” Larry Aaron included a chapter on a burgeoning community along the Dan River.

Though Danville is now a city separate from the county, it was a “community within Pittsylvania County” in its early days, Aaron points out in his book in which he also called the Dan “the heartbeat” of what was to become a city of 43,000 people.
The river played a vital role in the city’s formation; it was “its reason to be,” according to Aaron’s book. To bring home his point, Aaron included passages from a book by Beatrice Hairston, “A Brief History of Danville, Virginia, 1728-1954.”
“‘The history of Danville is the history of its river,’” Aaron cited from her work. “‘A river makes a town what it is; molds its life and the life of its people, the kind of work they do and the kind of pleasures they enjoy.’”
In the 1740s, William Wynne, who came from a prominent family in Prince George and Charles City counties, moved to the part of town now called the River District, said Lawrence McFall, local historian and author of “Danville in the Civil War.” The district includes Craghead and Bridge streets and lower Main Street — what for years has also been known as “downtown Danville.”
Wynne received 340 acres — through a land grant — below an area called “Great Falls” on the south side of the Dan River, according to McFall’s book.
“Together with his sons, he eventually owned more than 3,500 acres,” McFall points out in his book. “He established a ferry on the river in the location that the Main Street Bridge [now the King Memorial Bridge] later crossed.”
Wynne was a friend of William Byrd, who conducted the survey in 1728 to determine “long-disputed boundary dividing Virginia and North Carolina,” according to McFall’s book.
Settlers began migrating to the area between Virginia’s tidewater and the western mountains following Byrd’s survey, McFall wrote.
“This region, known as the Piedmont, possessed soil that had qualities conducive to the raising of tobacco,” McFall wrote. “Rivers provided a convenient way of getting the crop back to the Tidewater area where the state inspected it for its quality.”
Wynne moved his family to the area in 1753 and built his home near the falls, Aaron wrote. Eventually called “Wynne’s Falls,” it was wilderness through the Revolutionary period, with a path from the south across the river and disappearing into the forest 150 feet above the riverbank on the other side, “where today’s Main Street crosses the river,” Aaron wrote.
John Barnett, who owned land on the river’s south side, put in a ferry and later placed a bateaux (a small, flat-bottomed rowboat) in the river for trading purposes, Aaron wrote.
“The increased trade prompted further development,” Aaron wrote. “The tradition is that the first building was a blacksmith shop, which included a tavern and a store.”

A new town is born

According to McFall, commercial traffic volume created the need for tobacco inspection in the immediate area instead of sending it down the river. In 1793, 15 Pittsylvania County citizens petitioned the state legislature for a town next to Wynne’s Falls, Aaron wrote.
The town of Danville was established on Nov. 23, 1793. From September 1795 to September 1796, Danville exported 135,000 pounds of tobacco and an additional 70,000 pounds were in warehouses awaiting shipment, according to McFall.
By the early 19th century, community members began to recognize the river’s potential for power, according to McFall.
Gen. Benjamin William Sheridan Cabell, a veteran of the War of 1812, moved to the community and helped form the Roanoke Navigation Company around 1816. He built a canal for boat traffic around the river’s falls, McFall wrote.
“The canal also provided water power to run several mills later constructed along its length,” McFall wrote. “These included a flour mill, a corn mill and a linseed oil mill, followed in 1828 by a cotton mill.”
In the 1820s, Danville had 59 buildings along Main Street, including a newspaper, schools, a tavern, a hotel and a Masonic Hall, according to Aaron.
Danville during the 1820s “was primed for a period of prosperity,” Aaron wrote.
“Increased trade from dredging the rivers, building bridges and canals and securing the state inspection site for tobacco duly increased population, resulting in more tobacco factories opening, as well,” Aaron wrote.
More tobacco made its way to Danville from the Danville and Fincastle Turnpike (later called Franklin Turnpike), from Lynchburg Stage Road to the north and south from Caswell County, North Carolina, by the middle of the 19th century, according to McFall.
“These highways allowed tobacco to reach Danville more easily and spurred the town’s growth,” McFall wrote.

Economic depression, fire and flood

The town had close to 500 residents by that time, and was a hub for tobacco leaf marketing and manufacturing, McFall wrote. The industry was so strong in Danville that the community’s manufacturers survived the Panic of 1837, according to McFall. However, the town’s four tobacco warehouses closed and state inspection stopped, according to Aaron.
Danville suffered through an economic depression for the next 20 years, Aaron wrote. A fire destroyed most of the town’s commercial district in 1847, and in 1850, a flood washed away the toll bridge across the river, according to Aaron.
Maj. William T. Sutherlin, with help from other businessmen, built a wood-covered bridge that lasted most of the 19th century, Aaron wrote. It was a predecessor to the Main Street Bridge, now the King Memorial Bridge.
Danville’s population grew to 2,000 by 1850, but only four houses were in North Danville. However, the north bank of the Dan River had a flour mill that was built in 1831, according to Aaron.
By 1854, Patton, Ridge, Craghead, Wilson, Loyal and Lynn streets had been laid out, according to Aaron.
“Within a few years the town extended as far up as present-day Holbrook Street,” Aaron wrote. “The weekly Register began publishing, and in 1859, Averett was established downtown from its predecessor, Roanoke Female Institute, the latter having evolved from the Baptist Female Seminary years before.”
In 1854, another fire brought severe losses downtown, Aaron wrote, citing a notebook kept by Danville coroner Jacob Davis. The fire burned the area between Craghead Street and the toll bridge and both sides of Main Street, southside. The list of business shows how much the town had grown, Aaron pointed out.
“Businesses destroyed by fire were several dry good and grocery stores, an apothecary store, a barbershop, butcher shop, several lumber houses, a boardinghouse, a hotel and a confectionary shop, and W.T. Sutherlin’s tobacco factory lost hydraulic presses and fixtures,” Aaron wrote.

Getting connected

In 1856, the Danville and Richmond Railroad — an idea from Whitmell P. Tunstall — connected Danville to eastern markets, Aaron wrote. The railroad “secured its pivotal place in Danville’s economy by making possible the rapidly expanding growth that accompanied its presence,” McFall wrote.
“In the four years prior to the Civil War, the town’s businesses prospered,” McFall wrote. “Land sales soared as property values increased. Residents of the county moved to town and swelled the population. They witnessed the emergence of Danville as the economic and commercial center of Southside Virginia.”
Also in 1856, Sutherlin built the second-largest tobacco factory on the corner of Lynn and Loyal streets. It was a prison during the Civil War and the building still stands today.
The war did not hamper the town’s economy, which flourished, McFall pointed out.
“Danville became a major economic beneficiary of the Civil War,” McFall wrote. “Tobacco manufacturers in Richmond, Petersburg and Lynchburg moved their entire operations to Danville, where they found a safe haven behind the battle lines.”

Reimagine That!

You’ve always been able to see the possibilities in things — places, buildings, events, ideas — in ways that are new and limitless.
You’re the first to push new ideas and champion change, immune to the cautions of the fearful: “but this is how we’ve always done it.”
Imagine how far you could go in a place that encourages those fresh perspectives. A place that needs and rewards your vision? A whole community where the status quo is a no go. Where it’s not just the transformative power to imagine that’s celebrated, but more importantly the power to reimagine.
The Danville River District is that place.
Welcome to the renaissance. Perhaps even, your renaissance. Because this transformation, that began with the repurposing of historic warehouses and factories into modern lofts, has touched a chord deep in the hearts and minds of all who call Danville home. It has become the inspiration for self examination and an interest in self-discovery that begins with those life-changing questions: what if and why not. It’s something you can feel in the air and see in the faces of those you encounter. A kind of eyes-wide-open enthusiasm that is at the heart of our city’s reimagining.
Throughout the Danville River District, there’s a captivating synergy between people and place marked by everything from buildings to long held beliefs, being reimagined into something newer, fresher, and more relevant. An old train station becomes a new science center. A local teacher reimagines ways to engage her students using that center. An old freight warehouse is transformed into space for the local farmer’s market. Inspired, a group of people turn a vacant lot into a community garden. A local university relocates its nursing and professional studies programs to the River District. Caught up in the youthful collegiate atmosphere this creates, people begin to reimagine their career paths. Some consider returning to college to further their education. Some think of attending for the first time. Finally, because change in one area often triggers change in another, in the halls of local government city officials are reimagining best practices to make sure they’re still truly what’s best, that we haven’t outgrown them already.
Skeptics looking in at our progress might be inclined to caution that — like any and all renaissances before it — ours will end. But make no mistake. Reimaginging has become the lifeblood of who we are, our way of life, and our way of welcoming visitors. Physical details marking this transformation — warehouses now lofts, the flower baskets and planters brimming with flowers along Main Street, the sides of buildings adorned with colorful murals that tell our history — are scenes from the pages of a story that has no end.
Yes, you’ve always looked at things differently, from new angles …..
What better place to work than in a community that welcomes the visionary in you. What better place to raise a family than among people who believe in the power of imagination, and re-imagination, over cold facts and common practices. What better place to make your mark than in the company of leaders who are architects of a brighter destiny, for our city and for us.
Imagine — no reimagine — how far you could go in a place like this.
Danville River District

Reimagine That.

New gateway signage to our River District!

The new River District Logo being installed on the water tower!

Reimagine That: Brand emulates progressive, upward movement!

Danville’s River District has existed for more than 200 years. In the intervening years, the area’s identity has gone from the simple origins of the town of Danville to a center for tobacco warehouses to the River District, where ideas and innovation flow. The Danville River District brand unveiled Friday evening at a community party asks community members and visitors alike to reimagine that image.

“Danville River District: Reimagine That” is the River District’s new brand platform announced amid planned entertainment, activities and an impressive fireworks display (all despite rain that hit the area for an hour Friday night.)
It has three parts to it.
At the top is a brown and white silhouette illustration that represents the historic tobacco warehouse architecture of downtown Danville. The architecture seen in the image is that of 610 Craghead St.
The next portion is a center band in a brick red tone. The final, bottom portion of the image is interchangeable. It mimics the appearance of flowing water but upon closer examination shows electronic circuitry lines. This represents Danville’s advanced technology focus as well as the city’s Dan River.
The image has a three dimensional look to it, presenting the motifs at a unique angle that suggests the fresh approach to the historic landmark that is Danville. The brand has an upward angle that emulates the progressive and upward movement of the River District.
Overlaying the whole image are the tagline’s words. It can be repurposed for other events or activities, such as the Danville Mud Run or the River District Festival. The brand’s colors are brown, brick red, green and chartreuse.
The narrative invites you to be a part of Danville’s renaissance, if not your own. It promotes the individual mobility each individual community member has to envision change and progress that revises the way things have always been done.
“This is not an advertising campaign with a slogan and logo. This is about our identity as a River District and it tells who we are and what our economic advantage is,” Danville Public Information Officer Arnold Hendrix said.
The brand and its accompanying narrative are the product of about two years of research, professional consultation and preparation. Danville used North Star Destination Strategies as the consulting agency for this project.
The process started in 2010 when a delegation from Danville visited Greenville, South Carolina. There they learned of the possibilities for a once-dying downtown. They also learned of the need to develop achievable projects, such as this logo and brand.
North Star spent in the River District, both in a formal manner and undercover. Danville Office of Economic Development Assistant Director Corrie Teague explained that the consultants repeatedly emphasized that “your brand is what they say about you when you’re not around.”
The research portion included interviews and focus groups with public officials, businesses and civic organizations. Representatives from Averett University, the Danville Area Historical Society, Galileo High School, the River District Association and more provided opinions on the River District’s previous successes, potential and ideas for the future. A team of three creatives worked on the design details of the brand and image.
Even secret shoppers were deployed to ask questions about the area and its community. The North Star team wanted to get the unadulterated, true opinion of the River District. The terms adaption and repurposing came up repeatedly.
Signage already is visible at various entry points to the River District. About six more gateway signs will be installed as part of the wayfinding project. Approximately 20 vehicular signs and multiple kiosks will be added, too.
The next streetscape project on Craghead Street will begin soon. The work will introduce pavers and other elements seen on Main Street from Loyal through Newton Streets. The work on the pedestrian bridge connecting the north and south portions of the Riverwalk Trail will begin in June.
“We have a development model in place for the River District. We have had great success with it, and now we want to celebrate that success and challenge everyone to see things not as they are, but as they could be,” Teague said Friday.

Step by step, Danville’s downtown transforms

The evolution of an almost-forgotten downtown Danville to a vital center of activity isn’t going to happen overnight, city leaders were warned when they visited Greenville, South Carolina, in 2010.
Another former mill town, Greensville began its work about 25 years ago — but it is paying off, with businesses and residents moving in and a downtown that always seems to have several things going on.

Signs that downtown Danville would be making a comeback began slowly. In 2006, Jerry Amburn opened his salon; next door, at the Purple Onion, downtown workers happily had lunch or met after work for dinner. In 2007, Lou’s Antique Mall opened.
Since then, the Purple Onion closed and Jake’s On Main opened in its place. Those three businesses now face the newly-created Main Street Plaza, designed to be a destination with its centerpiece fountain, donated to the city by Japan Tobacco Inc. The effort has been a success: it’s hard to find the plaza deserted and even on Sundays people on the Riverwalk Trail or heading home from church often stop by to visit the fountain and take family photographs posed in front of it.
Some stores — like Rippe’s and Abe Koplan Clothing — hung in during downtown’s decline instead of following many of the other downtown retail stores to the mall or shopping centers along Riverside and Piedmont drives.
Officially dubbed the “River District” following the trip to Greenville (a trip paid for by the Danville Regional Foundation), the foundation’s CEO, Karl Stauber, also offered to pay $75,000 toward the cost of a development plan for the district.
Buildings that have been renovated — the Burton Lofts, Lynn Street Lofts, the Ferrell Building and Pemberton Lofts — filled with residents quickly as they were completed.
Traffic patterns changed and a streetscape project was launched to widen and beautify Main Street sidewalks and is being expanded to Craghead Street this year.
Parking has been studied and a large parking lot was built on Newton Street, within walking distance of The Crossing at the Dan — the one area of the River District that was revitalized prior to the current effort — and Main Street. An enclosed garage is being built at Bridge and Loyal streets and the former Downtowner Motor Lodge site (again the DRF stepped in and picked up the tab for purchasing and demolishing the long-defunct building) is being eyed for future parking expansion.
There have been block parties, musical performances at the centerpiece fountain and festivals downtown, designed to draw people in for a look at how the district is progressing.
Overall, city officials estimate it has spent about $25 million so far on the revitalization project — but City Manager Joe King always smiles when he notes that investment has also inspired about $100 million in private investment.
The work will not be done quickly. Continued work on street and sidewalk improvements throughout the River District will take years and while many of the long-empty buildings have been purchased by developers there are still many more that need new owners able to revitalize them.
This weekend, the public is again invited to see the changes in the district, with a large party planned to unveil new signs welcoming visitors to the district, a new logo and slogan. The sign project took months of work as plans were developed for a coordinated look that would still get visitors to where they wanted to go and point them toward parking.
The party starts 6:30 p.m. Friday at The Crossing at the Dan on Craghead Street. Events for children, live music and a huge fireworks display are some of the events planned for the evening. The event is free and food and beverages will be available for purchase.