As the Hallmark greeting card and gift store morphs into a Bank of America, and the lights have gone dark over Read It Again, Sam’s shelves of used books, some are asking what types of businesses now prosper on the Downtown Mall—and who can afford to try.
Gwen Berthy, who’s been selling records at Melody Supreme on Fourth Street since 2010, ponders what may—or may not—be successful in taking Read It Again, Sam’s place.
“Not a bookstore, for sure,” he says. “I can’t imagine the rent.”
Joan Fenton, who owns the building and several shops on the Downtown Mall, declined to comment on how much she’s charging for rent, or what Dave Taylor, the bookstore’s founder, had been paying for the spot he’d occupied for more than two decades. (Taylor passed away in March, 2017).
Fenton did say she’s received many calls about the space, and will make a decision about a potential, undisclosed renter this week. The storefront isn’t up for grabs until January, and in the meantime, Fenton says she’ll host her own pop-up shop during the holiday season.
Former owner Dennis Kocik, who was a longtime patron who purchased the shop with the intent of saving it from going out of business when Taylor passed away, said he made the decision to close after facing an immediate rent increase (to $4,800 per month), followed by an additional rent increase in May 2019 to $5,275 per month, plus the landlord’s requirement that he sign a one-year lease (though the space had been leased month-to-month for 20 years).
The average rent on the Downtown Mall is approximately $21 per square foot, though actual rent varies widely, according to Chris Engel, the city’s director of economic development. Berthy suggests prime real estate like the former site of the used bookstore probably costs $4,000 or $5,000 a month. Since 1997, the building’s total value has increased from approximately $300,000 to nearly a million dollars.
Another downtown bookstore co-owner, Kate DeNeveu, says, “We are very fortunate that our space is very small.”
But she also declined to comment on what she’s paying to rent the space that houses her Telegraph Art & Comics, and said she was surprised when Read It Again, Sam suddenly closed.
“I’m going to miss that place,” she says. “I don’t think you can have too many bookstores.”
DeNeveu attributes a lot of her sales of comics, posters, T-shirts, and collectibles to downtown tourists.
“Being close to the Omni is a blessing,” she says. “I am totally 100 percent pro hotel.”
Sitting at the bar at Citizen Bowl Shop, DeNeveu points through the glass in the eatery’s front door and across the mall, where construction on a tech incubator called CODE will start later this year. She says it’ll be interesting to see if the mall’s offerings change to cater to tech professionals when almost an acre of their office and accompanying retail space opens. Berthy wonders the same, and says the business mix has changed over the years to accommodate young professionals who move to Charlottesville for jobs.
Engel says a healthy downtown should have a mix of retail, residential, and office spaces. “Since we have not had any new office space delivered in the past decade, the planned projects will be a welcome addition,” he says.
Berthy’s been here long enough to know what types of businesses do best.
“Burgers. Drinks. Ice cream,” he says. And then, while simultaneously making a thumbs down and blowing a raspberry, he says, “Culture.”
Adds the man who makes his money off of music—in a spot where people often drop by and ask him for restaurant recommendations instead of buying records—“If you want to do a private business here, first you think about the bellies of people.”
And the mini Bank of America that’s inhabiting Hallmark’s old home?
“No comment,” says Berthy, “I mean, what could I say? It’s terrible.”
Corrected October 25 at 10am. This story will be updated with comments from Read It Again, Sam owner Dennis Kocik.
Updated October 31 at 11:30am with comments from Dennis Kocik.