Business owners offer insight on state of downtown Drakes Branch

Published 1:46 pm Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Charlotte Gazette reached out to four unique Drakes Branch business owners, seeking their input on the current status of the town as well as the council’s revitalization plan, including the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) grant application currently under review.

Among the business owners were Rodney Moon, a Drakes Branch native who owns several rental properties including two actively leased by other business owners. Moon catalyzed the talks between the DHCD and the town regarding grant opportunities to rebuild Drakes after inquiring about money for his own businesses and wrote one of the seven grant support letters to be sent to the DHCD.

“The fact that the town … the buildings are just deteriorating in the town,” said Moon, explaining his own interest in improving the town. As the owner of the building formerly housing Jerry’s Red and White grocery store, he said the town used to be “booming” during his childhood with traffic constantly flowing through town.

“This grant would really help with getting things back on track and rebuilding the structure that we have and just making the town look better along with getting new businesses in,” said Moon.

Currently the town council plans to use the grant for storefront repair. Concerns were raised by Bruce Mittleman, owner of Affordable Computer, who questioned how a grant with $15,000 cap would help the whole town.

Mittleman said he had put an estimated $40,000 into his building over the years, including repair after flood damage.

“This building has cost a lot of money as far as repairs … If we only get $15,000 that’s not going to fix up this building,” said Mittleman. “We need to get a bigger grant with matching funds that will benefit the business owners.”

Mike Tharpe, owner of rental properties housing a beauty salon, drug store and apartments, said he spent $20,000 on the front of the drug store building, citing that the windows were previously boarded with plywood.

When asked how many businesses would be able to receive the potential grant money, Drakes Branch Mayor Denise Pridgen didn’t have an estimate.

“I’m not sure, I really don’t know that answer. We want to help as many as we can with the grant, but the amount … how many … I don’t know,” said the mayor. The timeline for Drakes’ revitalization and applying to more grants through the DHCD or other agencies targeting rural community development were undetermined. Pridgen said no specific plans have been made because the application hasn’t been approved yet, but the town council had formed a grant committee.

Karen Gregory-Williams, CEO of Richmond’s Sciengenix Laboratory, grew up in Drakes Branch and felt as though she was watching the town decline right before her eyes each time she returned.

After experiencing life as a business owner in Richmond, while Gregory-Williams agrees the look of the town needs improvement and believes the town should provide incentives for businesses that start up in Drakes. “I noticed in that area (Richmond), they gave new businesses incentives like money or grants towards lab equipment or to hire a person,” said Gregory-Williams. With the addition of incentives, she wanted to either expand her business in Richmond to Drakes or start a separate one.

“If there’s anything I can do to help out, certainly I’d love to bring a business to Charlotte County,” she said.

Pridgen said the town would look into the possibility.