Two days before the October 11 closing of Toddsbury of Ivy, a beloved convenience store in the heart of the small western Albemarle community, its parking lot was paved. That’s something the store’s owner says he’s been asking the landlord to do for over a year, and maintenance was a factor in Bruce Kirtley’s decision to close shop.
“It’s been 25 years and I’m 65 years old,” says Kirtley. “It’s time to move on.”
The property is owned by Phil Dulaney, whose sizable land holdings include a once-thriving tourist center with a Holiday Inn and Howard Johnson at the intersection of the Blue Ridge and Shenandoah national parks; Charlottesville Oil across from the Boar’s Head Inn on Ivy Road, where, according to multiple sources, the roof leaks so badly that employees move desks when it rains; and Swannanoa palace, a historic landmark that has been used to store construction debris from other Dulaney properties.
In a 2015 story, “The ruins of Afton Mountain: Eyesores along a scenic byway,” C-VILLE estimated his commercial real estate, most of it in prime locations, was worth at least $30 million. Dulaney did not return a phone message left at Charlottesville Oil.
“I did 90 to 95 percent of repairs over 25 years,” says Kirtley, who says he tried for the past 15 years to buy the property from Dulaney. “If I owned it, it would look a lot different. You can’t keep putting your own money into property you don’t own.”
Ivy residents are mourning the loss of Toddsbury, where they could pop in to buy a decent bottle of wine, coffee, or homemade chicken pot pie from its deli. “Construction guys are here in the morning, doctors and lawyers going home stop in the evening,” says Kirtley.
“You’re closing? That stinks,” says Jeff Shooter, who was in the store October 5. “Where will I stop for my beer?”
“This is like a living room for the neighborhood,” says Stuart Opler, one of Toddsbury’s six employees—two full time, four part time—who will be out of a job.
Former Albemarle supervisor Sally Thomas, who used to live in nearby West Leigh, says the store has a long and complex history that includes a murder before Kirtley leased the property. She writes on Facebook, “[T]he main loss will be the amazing community center that the Kirtleys created with generosity and empathy. This is not ‘just’ a store. It’s an institution.”
One of the property’s ongoing issues is its septic system, which “is probably older than you and me,” says Kirtley. A new septic tank would cost $9,000, but Kirtley believes that would only be a temporary fix. The site is hampered by a creek, and it could cost as much as $60,000 to tap into the county’s sewer line, although he says he’s been told it can be done for $39,000.
“If I owned it, I’d fix it,” says Kirtley. “That’s what rational people do. His properties speak for themselves.”
He calls Dulaney “an honorable man,” but as a landlord, he’s been “unconventional.” Says Kirtley, “His actions—or lack of action—makes this the best decision for me.”