By Olivia Hewitt
Small business owners are excited about the future of Buena Vista after developer Ed Walker bought over a dozen downtown properties there in December.
On Jan. 18, Walker told the Buena Vista City Council about his plans to revamp the properties within the next two years. The Roanoke-based developer has purchased several vacant buildings in Roanoke in recent years and has converted them primarily into apartments and condominiums.
“There are a lot of great cities and towns that need some TLC and some energy to bring some life back to them,” Walker said at the meeting.
Based on Walker’s reputation, local business owners hope he can revitalize downtown Buena Vista so it can rebound economically. As a manufacturing town, Buena Vista was once known for its thriving industrial plants, many of which have closed or moved elsewhere.
Becky Fairchild, owner of Becky’s Bridal & Formal on Magnolia Avenue, said she hopes Buena Vista will return to its former vibrancy after the properties are redeveloped.
“When I went into business, this was the only building that was vacant,” said Fairchild, who’s owned her store for over 35 years. “Everything was full. On the weekends, during the week, it was always busy, always, always busy.”
Fairchild said she saw a decline in business after the 1985 flood, when heavy rain fell across the county. During that time, Becky’s Bridal was flooded with 14 inches of water. While her business survived, others shut down.
“It’s bad when you don’t have others around you,” she said. “The restaurants – they’ll open up, and then they’ll close, like the guy beside me.”
Walker bought the building next to Becky’s that had housed a restaurant. He also purchased an old car dealership, its service center, storefronts and empty lots along Magnolia and Forest avenues. The total property value is an estimated $1.3 million.
Ruthie Lawhorne, who owns Vinyl Cuts on Magnolia Avenue, said she would enjoy seeing greater variety in Buena Vista’s businesses. She’s owned her store, known for its custom vinyl adhesive stickers and arts and crafts supplies, for more than 18 months.
“There are definitely options needed downtown,” Lawhorne said. “Anybody that has any kind of business interest is excited about anything coming for the good in Buena Vista.”
Mary Hoffman’s business – Flowers & Things – is one street over from many of the properties Walker purchased. Hoffman, who has owned her store for over 25 years, believes Buena Vista is overdue for needed improvements.
“It’s just a matter of changing with the times,” Hoffman said. “I think all the little cities have to reinvent themselves. It’s time for a change, everybody has to change, everybody should change. We can’t stay stagnant.”
Tom Roberts, Buena Vista’s director of planning and community development, said while Walker has no definite plans for the properties yet, he trusts that the developer will figure out how to fill the vacant buildings. Walker did not return several phone calls and failed to respond to multiple emails seeking comment.
“It’s great when someone has a lot of resources and a lot of vision who also sees the potential and takes the step of buying some property and buying some developments,” Roberts said.
Roberts also said Walker’s investment in the city could be a catalyst for other developers.
“People might be enticed to purchase buildings and open new businesses in the downtown,” he said. “Working closely with the city and being in city government, I see all the potential we have.”