Sunday, February 17, 2013

Retail Roundup: Bookstore manager ponders new chapter

Retail Roundup columns

The Storefront blog

There is still hope that Roanoke will once again see an independent bookstore selling new releases.

Christine Hastings, longtime manager of the former Ram's Head Book Shop at Towers Shopping Center, is still working toward opening a smaller version of the store that closed more than a year ago.

"I haven't given up," Hastings said. "It's just been a little more challenging than I thought."

Ram's Head closed when the store's founders, John and Lolly Rosemond, decided to retire after 47 years.

Hastings said at the time that she wanted to reopen the store. She began researching the process, but put her plans on hold last fall because she didn't want to open during the holidays or winter months.

Now she is back to plotting, but her biggest hurdle remains funding, she said. She needs a substantial amount of money to purchase stock, because Ram's Head's inventory was liquidated.

If Hastings' plans come to fruition, she'd like to reopen at Towers, maybe this summer, she said.

She hasn't decided whether she would keep the Ram's Head name or go with something slightly different.

Hastings has been working at Too Many Books in Grandin Village and said she still believes there is a market for physical books, and independent bookstores, in the digital age.

Independent bookstores such as Too Many Books, Paperback Exchange and Givens Books, which all sell used volumes, have a better handle on what customers want than chain stores, Hastings said.

Working at Too Many Books has helped her keep in touch with the community's reading habits, and she's also noticed that even technology lovers put down their reading tablets in favor of ink on paper.

"There is a place for real books," she said. "Even people who have Kindles are still using real books."

Ivy Market sparks developer interest

Old buildings surrounding Roanoke's Ivy Market development have been razed and the land graded to attract developers to the unfinished shopping center, and the work seems to be paying off.

Ivy Market has been vacant since Ukrop's closed in 2009. Valley Bank bought the development when it went into foreclosure.

Since then, the bank has been working to find a developer that would buy the site, lease the vacant space and finish phase two of the project, which includes more buildings.

Part of the bank's work to sell the development included demolishing several old buildings on the land just north of the existing development, where phase two of the development might someday be constructed. The bank also built a retaining wall on that land. In addition, the bank is creating a website to market the property.

The activity has piqued the interest of several developers, said Valley Bank President and CEO Ellis Gutshall.

"There is definitely some interest," he said.

Gutshall said he hopes to know within a month whether one of them will buy the property.

Gutshall has said that the bank was targeting grocers because the building is set up for that type of retailer. Whole Foods, an organic grocery store, was interested in the site in 2011 but ultimately passed, Gutshall has said. The bank has also marketed the site to Kroger, Publix, Earth Fare and Harris Teeter

Meanwhile, Valley Bank is starting construction on a branch at Kroger Square at Bonsack.

The branch has been in the bank's plans since 2008, but the bank held off on construction when the recession hit, Gutshall said.

The branch will be about 3,600 square feet - 20 percent larger than its other branches.

Construction will take about six months, Gutshall said.

The branch will be the bank's ninth location.

Parkway brews debut at eateries

Salem's Parkway Brewing Co. has been open for business for about a month, and two of its brews can already be found on tap in at least a dozen restaurants.

Husband-and-wife team Mike "Keno" Snyder and Lezlie Snyder last year got investors to help them finance the opening of the brewery inside an old warehouse on Kessler Mill Road.

Their brew master, Ryan Worthington, spent the summer perfecting four beers.

Two of those, Bridge Builder Blonde, a Belgian wheat beer named for the immigrants who built the stone bridges along the Blue Ridge Parkway, and Get Bent Mountain, an IPA, are available at restaurants including Lucky, Blue 5, Wasena City Tap Room, Fork in the Alley, Fork in the City, Local Roots, 1906 Ale House, Village Grill, Blues BBQ, Metro, Mac and Bob's, and Jimmy Sardines

Growlers are available during the brewery's tastings, from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday and Friday and 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday.

Bottles should be available in stores within the next six weeks, as soon as the brewery receives a part for its bottling line, Lezlie Snyder said.

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