Downtown prospects awarded funding

Published 9:49 pm Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Four business plans were awarded grant funding on Tuesday to expand or get started in downtown Suffolk.

Brick and Mortar and the SPARC Shoppe received $15,000 each, while Groundworks Bar and Bistro was awarded $10,000 and Elizabeth and Maude Boutique got $5,000.

The grants were the grand finale of the Community Business Launch Pitch Night Competition that was held Tuesday evening in the Taylor Ballroom of the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts. The competition was sponsored by Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development and the Suffolk Economic Development Authority and funded by a $45,000 grant for new and expanding business ventures.

Email newsletter signup

Among those that finished a mandatory seven-week education series, nine business plans were submitted for the competition. Each of the plans was to either expand an existing business downtown or open a new business this year.

The panel of judges had to decide how to distribute the grant money among the five finalists on Tuesday. The finalists were Ed Beardsley’s SPARC Shoppe; Anticia Macalou’s Groundworks Bar and Bistro; Joseph Wood’s Suffolk Historical Vendors Court; Syreeta Woods and the Elizabeth and Maude Boutique; and David Stacknick of Brick and Mortar Brewing Company.

Brick and Mortar will use the funding to create an outdoor space for its location on East Washington Street. The expansion includes a 750-square-foot deck with an outdoor bar, using a partial lot that was acquired behind the brewery, Stacknick said. This project also includes a grain silo for both aesthetic and manufacturing purposes.

According to Stacknick, the expansion will double the brewery’s distribution and increase both its seating and production capacities. It will also benefit restaurants that serve or deliver food to customers at the brewery, such as El Korita, Amici’s Pizza and Holland’s Country Gourmet.

“As a brewery without a kitchen, the surrounding restaurants are a staple for our growing business,” Stacknick said.

The SPARC Shoppe is also preparing to grow this year. Beardsley said that the funding will be used to renovate space for artisans at the SPARC Shoppe at 126 N. Main St.

Between the SPARC Shoppe, the OnePast7 art studio and the increasing number of public murals, artists are adding culture downtown, and more space is needed to meet that demand.

“At this point, demand for space exceeds what we have,” Beardsley said as he praised social media outreach and word-of-mouth for adding to the local excitement.

Macalou explained to the Tuesday night audience how she plans to meet local demand as well with coffee, food and good spirits.

Her vision for Groundworks Bar and Bistro is a community-oriented coffee and lunch spot during the day and a place for cocktails during happy hour and later.

She said that downtown eateries have historically catered to municipal workers with lunch and very limited hours of operation. But younger diners want a convenient place to hang out, enjoy coffee and work into the evenings.

She plans to be operational at 153 W. Washington St. by September and have Groundworks stand out with a tasty menu and an inviting atmosphere.

“It’s a feeling that you’re imbued with as soon as you sit in the space, (and) it’s everybody in that space creating a vibe and a place of warmth,” she said.

Like Macalou, Woods has seen the culture of Suffolk change over the past decade or so, which is why she believes in her idea of a downtown boutique store.

She plans to open her store at 150 W. Washington St. and offer “classic elegance, modern comfort and effortless style” in various sizes and competitive prices. The Brooklyn native has more than 10 years of experience in the fashion industry, along with deep Suffolk roots.

She said her father was born and raised in Suffolk and that her grandmother lived downtown and worked for Planters.

“My goal is to basically bring a piece of Brooklyn into Suffolk and the entire Hampton Roads area,” she said.

Wood was not awarded any grant funding for a vendor’s court at 179 E. Washington St., where shop owners could rent space to sell their wares, but no ideas were left unheard at the competition.

Each presenter echoed the same sentiment — that Suffolk is ripe for growing new and exciting opportunities for locals and newcomers alike.

“Success is becoming contagious,” Stacknick said. He’s witnessed more and more stores open downtown since Brick and Mortar started serving patrons.

Beardsley has been working closely with the city to realize that potential by teaming his SPARC Initiative — which stands for “Suffolk’s Prime Arts, Retail and Culinary” — with the city’s Downtown Master Plan.

According to him, if people didn’t believe in downtown Suffolk, then they wouldn’t be “putting their money where their mouth is” and starting their own businesses.

“I think it’s a unified move forward, which is good,” he said.

The community also came out Tuesday night and packed into the ballroom to see what’s in store for their city this year. Assistant Director of Economic Development Gregory Byrd found that to be just as encouraging as the pitches themselves.

“It’s a wonderful representation of what’s happening downtown, and we couldn’t be more impressed,” Byrd said.