Welcome to downtown

Published 10:36 pm Monday, August 24, 2009

There are still plenty of empty storefronts in the area, and it probably would be premature to call what’s happening a rebirth, but recent developments in Downtown Suffolk have the ring of a small economic revival.

Completion of the new Health and Human Services building on Hall Avenue, construction and major renovations at the old Nansemond Grocery Building on E. Washington Street, the opening of the Stallings & Bischoff law offices in the Montgomery Lofts building on N. Main Street and the opening of a commercial masonry company’s corporate office in an old skating rink on E. Pinner St. all provide recent evidence that business is moving back into Suffolk’s downtown core.

“We need a lot more of that,” said Andy Damiani, president of the Downtown Business Association and an inveterate promoter of Suffolk’s core.

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“We welcome all new businesses there,” he added, noting that anything that increases foot traffic downtown will be good for all the businesses in the area. “We’ve got to have more people walking around there.”

Tipton’s Diner is the latest of the entrants onto the downtown scene, and Damiani and others hope the restaurant will be part of the solution to the problem of limited foot traffic.

Open since the beginning of July at 200 E. Washington St., in what used to be C&C Diner, the restaurant caters to families and individuals looking for all-American flavors at a moderate price.

“It’s like a taste of old America, really,” said Richard Hawkins, who owns and operates the diner along with Erick Goodman.

The nostalgic flavor is evident in the restaurant’s menu — which features hamburgers, club sandwiches, Philly cheesesteaks and other diner staples — but it’s also evident in the atmosphere.

A long lunch counter is lined with bar stools, there are booths against the wall, and Hawkins said there are plans to decorate the walls with photos of some of Suffolk’s old and historic buildings.

Goodman is a Suffolk native and a minister at a local church, and “He knows everybody in town,” Hawkins said. Hawkins has run restaurants from Radford to Northern Virginia, and he lives in Virginia Beach with his wife, a student at Old Dominion University.

Hawkins hopes to settle in Suffolk, though, and he and his wife are looking to move into town.

“I’ve always been a small-town guy,” he said. “We’ve really just found our roots.”

Business has been slow since the diner opened in July, Hawkins said, but things have begun to pick up a bit recently.

“We saw probably 20 new faces today,” he said on Monday.

For Damiani and others who are invested in a downtown revival, that’s music to their ears.

“It is great to see another investment to the growing number of downtown dining establishments,” Mayor Linda T. Johnson said in a press release announcing the restaurant’s opening. “I wish Richard and his staff much success and look forward to seeing this new endeavor grow and prosper.”

The diner is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon.