The gradual revival of downtown Suffolk

Published 6:55 pm Saturday, April 27, 2013

By Dennis Edwards

Shhhhh! Don’t say anything, but downtown Suffolk is quietly becoming one of the nicest places to hang out in Hampton Roads.

A genteel social and professional community is slowly evolving along North Main Street, as well as East and West Washington streets, bound by Saratoga on one end and Bank and Market to the north.

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What’s bringing people downtown? Harper Bradshaw’s Harpers Table, Ed Beardsley’s Plaid Turnip, Randy Withers’ C3 Vino and its Friday-night wine tastings, sports fare at Mike Williams and Vance McGee’s The Baron’s Pub and gourmet pizza at Tyler Macmillan’s, Boo McGee’s and Mike William’s Amici’s Pizza Cafe on East Washington.

Why so many names? Well, downtown Suffolk was always driven by entrepreneurs. People like the owners of Ballards and Smith, The Economy Shop, Brewer’s Jewelry Store, J.P. Hall’s Drug Store and the Fairgrounds’ Dr. H.M. Diggs, Bubba Richards’ pharmacy, Leroy T. Edwards Sr. and his tax and accounting firm, and the owners of the Horse Shoe Cafe.

Those names belong to a rich past. Now there are new people with new names. But they’re following a tradition. Success in Suffolk has always been driven by strong people — characters even — with interesting personalities and incredibly strong wills. They did so well that major retail chains bought into the downtown dream.

National and regional retailers like Leggett Department Store, Woolworth’s, J.C. Penney, Montgomery Wards, Russell and Holmes and Peoples Drug Store were downtown Suffolk institutions for years.

After so many less-than-successful attempts to revitalize downtown, one might wonder how this time is different. I think Scott Nash of Richardson and Nash Clothiers has figured it out. He says the resurgence this time is fueled by a growing number of “people who now live downtown.” Folks who live, play, dine and dance there.

I’ve noticed downtown dining is like an adventure in meeting people. There’s a cross section of Suffolk High School, Nansemond-Suffolk Academy and Nansemond River High School grads. Mixed in are growing numbers of newcomers from in and out of state.

You’ll see young couples, many with children. They’re discovering more about “Surprising Suffolk” every day. New employees of Sentara Obici Hospital are choosing to make storefront lofts their home.

Something special is happening here. Now comes word The Monument Companies will expand their presence here. The company has purchased abandoned buildings in the 100 block of West Washington Street adjacent to buildings it already has turned into apartments. The buildings were once used by Roses five- and 10-cent store.

The plan is for 68 new loft apartments. Below the lofts, there will be new shops fronting West Washington for the first time in decades. It’s a veritable plethora of mixed-use genius. Folks are living in, working in and loving downtown Suffolk again.

Imagine what would happen if a small elementary school sprang into the mix in Southwest Suffolk along, say, Smith Street going into Lakeside. How much more life would that breathe into downtown?

What an exciting time to live here. And do you know what really stirs my spirit? It’s how people who grew up in “The Peanut City” and those who didn’t are enjoying its charm together. Everybody seems able to see through the lifeless faces of abandoned buildings to the vibrant beauty and bustling lives that filled them not so long ago.

Dennis Edwards is an Emmy Award-winning television news reporter and anchor, He is a 1974 graduate of Suffolk High School. Email him at