Fredericksburg.com: Richmonders expand here

BY BILL FREEHLING

Fredericksburg has increasingly become a target for Richmond-area entrepreneurs looking to expand their businesses outside Virginia’s capital.

Amid the recession of the past few years, four businesses that started in Richmond have chosen Fredericksburg as a first destination to expand outside their home territory.

Two of the businesses–the Capital Ale House taproom in downtown Fredericksburg and David Peterson’s Seven Hills Presents, which puts on the Celebrate Virginia Live summer concert series–have been up and running in Fredericksburg for a couple of years.

Another, Home Team Grill, is shooting for a March 1 opening at its new Eagle Village “family-friendly sports grill” across from the University of Mary Washington. The final one, F.W. Sullivan’s, hopes to open its bar and restaurant in the George Street space now occupied by Fatty J’s in downtown Fredericksburg by this summer.

It’s not a coincidence that the Richmond-based entrepreneurs have all chosen Fredericksburg as an expansion target, said Fredericksburg Economic Development Director Karen Hedelt. She said Richmond business owners would logically look to a nearby city to first expand, and Fredericksburg offers reasonably strong demographics.

Capital Ale President Matt Simmons said proximity–as well as the welcome reception he received from the City Council, the Fredericksburg Economic Development Authority and landlord Joe Wilson–was a big plus. He has to drive only an hour to get to Capital Ale’s Fredericksburg location.

Hedelt said Capital Ale’s success has helped attract other Richmond businesses. Simmons encouraged F.W. Sullivan’s partners Hayden Fisher and Jake Crocker to come to Fredericksburg, and the two businesses plan to work closely together to promote downtown events such as Oktoberfest.

Additional Richmond-based merchants are looking at the region, said Jim Ashby, who grew up in the Fredericksburg area and now works in leasing for Cushman & Wakefield|Thalhimer in the Richmond area. He said merchants like the Fredericksburg market for its disposable income and young demographics. He said there’s also a good mix of available space–including in the historic downtown and in newer retail centers outside the inner core.

Ashby said it helps that some of the Fredericksburg region’s largest commercial real estate firms–including Thalhimer and CB Richard Ellis–have a strong presence and many business contacts in the Richmond area.

“It’s good to see these retailers looking at Fredericksburg,” Ashby said.

Home Team Grill was excited about the opportunity to set up shop so close to UMW and the growing Mary Washington Hospital campus, said Garland Taylor, one of the business’s owners.

Taylor believed it was time for Home Team Grill–which has two locations in Richmond–to expand outside the region, but he wanted to be within an hour’s drive. He also looked at Williamsburg and Charlottesville, but ultimately chose the Fredericksburg area after studying the operations of many restaurants and bars in the region.

“I think it’s an incredible place,” Taylor said about Home Team’s chosen location, which is in the 5,000-square-foot space right next to the Eagle Landing student apartment building. Patios on the U.S. 1 and apartment-building sides are being built.

Peterson, whose company is bringing back Celebrate Virginia Live for its third season this summer, said entrepreneurs have probably all noticed an under-served population in Fredericksburg that would welcome the new offerings. He said it helps that a company such as Wegmans–which is known for doing exhaustive market research before entering a new area–has done so well.

Peterson trusted his gut that Fredericksburg would support the concert series. Now he’s booking acts for the third season and mulling the possibility of building a permanent concert arena that could be used for events throughout the year.