The Roanoker - September/October 2020 - 34

THE SECOND COMING OF

R ETA IL
R OA N O K E H AS LO N G C OV E T E D A R E T U R N TO I TS R E TA I L B AS E. I T LO O KS L I K E T H E
WA R M W E AT H E R O P E N I N G O F M AST G E N E R A L STO R E C O U L D B E A S I G N I F I C A N T
C O N T R I B U TO R TO T H AT G OA L . * W R I T T E N BY DA N S M I T H

I

T IS A QUESTION THAT IS being
asked with increasing frequency these days:
Is Roanoke at the front end of a retail
renaissance, despite COVID-19?
Evidence is scattered throughout the
Roanoke Valley, but is most evident with the
coming of Mast General Store in downtown
Roanoke June 17, where the regional "family of stores"
occupies the first floor of the long-vacant Heironimus
building.
"We've seen such positive change in Roanoke [retail]
that it has made my children want to move back here,"
says Melissa Palmer, one of the four co-owners of
candy and greeting card retailer chocolatepaper on
Roanoke City Market.
To replicate the current climate downtown, "You'd
have to go back to the 1960s and before, when there
were no malls or outlying strip centers; back to say,
the Heironimus days," says John Garland, a former
Roanoke City Councilman and a downtown renovation
specialist. Garland grew up in Roanoke and is familiar
with retail as a central figure downtown.
"What we thought we would get in downtown, as
an offshoot of the residential development [which he
helped spearhead], was retail, and it never came. Well,
now it is [here]. The opening is a downtown Roanoke
milestone and it too, will be transformative. The next

34

SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2020

logical step in the revitalization of downtown is retail."
"There are 1,500 people working downtown and
2,200-2,500 residents," points out economic development
specialist Lisa Soltis, who grew up in a thriving retail
environment in downtown Roanoke. "Tourism is crazy
up; buses bring tourists downtown. I wish we could get
back to where we were in the 1960s. Downtown was
high-end. Jackie Kennedy would have shopped there."
Sheri Moretz, a marketing specialist for Mast
General Store, says, "We chose Roanoke for a number
of reasons. ... The Roanoke market has the basic
components that we look for when considering a new
community: it is investing in its downtown and the
rebirth is starting to happen; it is a vibrant community
with a healthy mix of locals and visitors; there is a lot
for both locals and visitors to enjoy in the downtown
and surrounding area. The city/county/region is
promoting it and attracting new residents and visitors;
the economy is varied with medical, tourism, education,
and even some manufacturing. Some of our decision
has to do with the actual building."
The pandemic has had an effect, says Moretz.
"Roanoke, like Boone is a little insulated. It might be
a while before we feel the full effects of [the pandemic].
All this stuff happening is going to change retail across
the board. I don't know how. People will still seek out
experiences, but we won't know how immediately."

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The Roanoker - September/October 2020

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The Roanoker - September/October 2020 - Cover2
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The Roanoker - September/October 2020 - Cover3
The Roanoker - September/October 2020 - Cover4
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