Everythings great when you’re…

Emmy -- July 30th, 2007

Downtown? In light of some recent comments I thought it might be nice to talk a little bit about downtown. I’m amazed at the strides that have been made by the Harrisonburg Downtown Renissance since I started working here almost three years ago. So what do you think is  great about downtown, and what is still missing?

48 Responses to “Everythings great when you’re…”

  1. Marty says:

    I like the goals of the Renaissance; personally, I think the new stores/restaurants are pretty so-so. Looking forward to what’s next, though.

    IMO, Downtown has never looked better.

  2. republitarian says:

    I love the free parking!

    (We’ll see how someone twists that)

  3. JGFitzgerald says:

    Typical “libertarian.” Soaking the government for free parking for their gas-guzzling “farm vehicles” while squawking about “bleeding hearts” as soon as someone suggests trying to end the permanent underclass. Laissez-faire becomes laissez-park.

    How’d I do?

  4. JGFitzgerald says:

    The main thing still missing from downtown is space. Between parking lots, churches, and government buildings, downtown may run out of storefronts before reaching the tipping point that makes it able to be self-sufficient. The next step is probably to expand the geographic boundaries of downtown. Easy enough to do on paper, probably harder in people’s heads.

  5. Barnabas says:

    What do you consider downtown?
    I considerthe two blocks surrounding the route 11 split downtown. The Little Grill sit’s just outside of this area, as does the hospital and Memorial Stadium.

  6. Emmy says:

    I agree Joe.

    Personally, I’d like to see more of the older businesses do what Christa did and utilize their empty space. I’d also like to see more of them improve their exteriors. I love it that people are buying up these old run-down places and turning them into new, thriving businesses. I’m amazed every day at how the new location for Blue Nile is coming along. I’m really looking forward to the food co-op and the new farmer’s market pavilion.

    When I started my job downtown several of us mentioned that we wanted a pharmacy and a convenience store. One down, one to go!

  7. JGFitzgerald says:

    When the Downtown Arts and Cultural District was drawn some years back (2001 maybe) the basic description was “JMU to the Little Grill.” Mason and the railroad were the long boundaries. The thing came out looking like the Maltese Falcon, upside down and on its back. Needless to say, I was dismissed, implicitly if not out loud, as not being a serious person when I referred to it as the Dingus District.

    Downtown would seem to fall within that district. Potential downtown would be the areas where we run out of storefronts but converted houses can still be galleries, niche businesses, bistros and boutiques.

  8. I was not living in this area around the time all that downtown land was taken over for the jail. What are thoughts about how that affects downtown today and in the future?

  9. Justin C says:

    We moved our business into downtown a little over a year ago and everyday since I’ve been glad we decided to make the move. I’ve been reading the last few threads and the complaints with downtown and I don’t get it. Obviously some things have room to improve, but the place looks great.

    A big reason for this has been HDR grants for improvements and cooperation between businesses.

    I think we’ll see the next big jump in our downtown atmosphere when more living space is available downtown. With more people living here there will be a larger base to support things like a drug store (which by the way would be excellent).

  10. JGFitzgerald says:


    I was city editor at the DNR then and walked to work past the shops destroyed by the jail complex. I often wonder if we could have done more to let people know what was going on and, if we’d done more, if the project might have stalled. As it stands now, the old creamery/PD will almost certainly become part of the jail at some point, and the offices in the District Court building will have to expand sometime, somewhere.

    The jail/courts demolition 17 years ago took at least a city block and a half dozen or more storefronts out of downtown. More will fall in the future in the absence of a long-range plan for what kind of government/business mix we want for downtown.

  11. linz says:

    I think downtown needs a really good sandwich and dessert hangout like Spanky’s in its glory days. I miss it!!

  12. Marci says:

    Oh yes linz, I miss my Dr. Watson!

  13. kai says:

    Public art. We need more of it. There are canvasses everywhere!

  14. Myers says:


  15. Renee says:

    I think that the businesses moving into downtown have improved the area, however, it still doesn’t “look welcoming” – i.e. it’s not a cute little old town a la Staunton or Charlottesville with colorful new awnings and cohesive-looking buildings. Some of the buildings have chipped paint or cheap-looking signs, not to mention the many styles of bricks that make built-on extensions or repairs look obvious. If they would just fix up the storefronts, or do some public art installments like Kai mentioned above, that would improve the look a lot. To me, downtown Hburg still has a half-abandoned look to it and needs some “life”.

  16. I think I agree with Renee somewhat. I think we have a way to go before downtown looks the way we all want it to. I know I am looking forward to getting my building painted, but I have to wait until the phone company gets the wires off my building and Comcast revamps(whatever that is) their wiring. I have wires all over the place and it looks unsightly, especially in the back. If anyone has any ideas about how I could make that look better…I could use some suggestions. Painting will improve it vastly, but it’s pointless until all the utilities are done. I don’t want to have to repaint that monster but one time. Now if I can just get the graffiti to stop, I’ll be happy.

  17. Marci says:

    The Blue Nile has done a great job fixing up the building they’re moving in to. That place looked really bad.

  18. And I could never get rid of my sign…I know it’s dated, but my grandad put it up. It’s part of the business. And the neon even works!!

  19. Emmy says:

    NO!!! Don’t ever get rid of the sign! I love the old signs!!! Sign company’s will restore them if they get too run down. There’s one business downtown that I would love to see do some exterior work, but I’m pretty sure they just can’t manage it. Christa, I think you know who I’m talking about.

  20. Oh yeah I do, but there’s no way anyone will get him to budge. I’ve tried.
    I had the sign restored some years ago…had the neon fixed, painted it…it needs it badly again. With all the renovations, I just had to put some things on the back burner. I hope to start renovating the outside soon. Frazier and Associates designed a storefront that will bring it back to the original look.
    I think awnings would be a good look for some of the businesses downtown, like Renee mentioned. The only thing I worry about with that is vandalism.

  21. Mary Lou says:

    I think they really need to do something with that old Chevron station and Eastern’s Auto on 33. I LOVE Earth & Tea Cafe!

  22. Josh says:

    I’d like to see:
    more restaurants–both upscale and casual w/ sidewalk cafes (ever walk around the downtown mall in Cville on a nice summer night?)
    a classy hotel
    an independent movie theatre (maybe along the lines of the Dixie or Visulite in Staunton).

    It’s a real shame that the judicial/jail complex dominates downtown.

    Great public art idea from Kai!

  23. I heard something really big is about to happen at the Eastern Auto place.

  24. David Miller says:


    You’ve seen the pneumatic drill out front then I take it :)

  25. No, I haven’t, but someone told me about “big plans”. I hate suspense! :)

  26. Del Marvel says:

    “an independent movie theatre”

    We already have an independent movie theater downtown.

  27. finnegan says:

    True, Del. I try to go see movies there as often as I can.

    However, it sure would be nice if things had gone differently and a certain someone hadn’t decided to knock down the historic movie theater that was already on Court Square, in order to put a parking lot there. It would be so much better (and completely viable with HDR monies) to have the CST located in a theater that was actually designed to be a theater.

    C’est la vie.

  28. David Miller says:


    I can pass along the rumors; seemingly valid, but unofficial none the less.

    Six story apt/condo student/young professional (think Campbell Court Apts x3) with a retail center on ground floor.

    I’d love to hear confirmation but can’t get any. The pneumatic drill that is usually used for blasting operations spurs my imagination, now I assume that the rumors are coming to fruition.

  29. finnegan says:

    I can’t confirm anything other than the fact that I’ve heard the same rumors.

  30. MikeFus says:

    I really like the sidewalk cafe idea. To take it a step further, I’d like to see more areas for pedestrians. I know this is a tough one because of Rt 11 passing right through, but it would be cool to have a street or two “pedestrian only” – maybe even cobblestone or brick pavers. It would also be nice if there wouldn’t be an adult boutique down there, inconspicuous though it is.

  31. David Miller says:

    Court Square will be brick pavers. It should be nice. The adult boutique is a side-effect of our First Amendment. Small price to pay but I know exactly what you mean.

  32. David Miller says:

    I’m so dumb, all this time I could have researched to see if they have filed for a building permit. Anyone want to run an errand?

  33. Benny Neal says:

    It seems downtown Harrisonburg was a good topic after all.
    Thank You very much!!

  34. Josh says:

    Del Marvel: Compare the film schedule for CST http://courtsquaretheater.com/ vs Visulite in Staunton http://www.visulitecinemas.com/ vs Vinegar Hill in Cville http://www.vinegarhilltheatre.com/ vs The Grandin in Roanoke http://www.grandintheatre.com/ vs The Lyric in Blacksburg http://www.thelyric.com/ etc. I’m sure our area could support something more substantial.

  35. David Troyer says:

    any plans for the old wetsel store front? My concept of “downtown” could see it growing west to 42 without too much stretch of the imagination… runner’s corner and rosetta stone come to mind… and I think city exchange helps my concept of a downtown spreading north.

  36. Tina says:

    I’m not sure I understand what Josh is trying to get at, but I will comment on the independent movie theme. If I’m not mistaken, the Visulite, Vinegar Hill, and the Grandin are strictly movie theaters. The Lyric shows movies but, like CST, also offers plays and concerts. The Visulite has two screens, Vinegar Hill just one (I think), and the Grandin has several. CST has one.

    Court Square Theater is not a movie theater, but offers a diverse array of programming including our Independent & Foreign Film Series (fulfilling our mission of being a community venue for the arts). We average about two movies a month, but also offer music, live theater, dance, and children’s programming. Summer’s a slow time at the theater, but soon the website will have the full schedule for Fall season.

    It would be pure speculation as to whether or not an indie movie theater could make it in H’burg. It would certainly be fun to try! But as much as it was an awful thing to happen, the old theater is gone. [“They paved paradise and put up a parking lot…”]

  37. Tina says:

    Sorry about the long post above. I do want to weigh in, though, on the downtown topic. I think things are improving. I love having lots of food options, with more exciting ones to come. And I think having events like Fridays on the Square, Museum & Gallery Walk, etc. brings people in who ordinarily would bypass downtown. I think more shops [diverse, funky] would be great.

  38. Karl Magenhofer says:

    I thought (and still think) someone missed the boat when the movie theater on South Main closed and never re-opened as a movie theatre. I can’t believe that a dollar house wouldn’t have made it here in Harrisonburg. I know it’s out of downtown, but it is still in the city and could have been a great addition. Come to think of it, didn’t someone make a failed run with the old Regal location at the Mall?
    CST needs some sort of marquee on the outside. I think more people would be inclined to go there if they knew what was showing without having to go looking for it. I’m slightly embarrassed to say that it took me a minute to come up with CST when a poster said we had an indi movie theatre. Out of sight, out of mind? That could be a slogan for several downtown businesses that have a lot to offer, but little name recognition.

  39. Tina says:

    There’s a marquee on the front of the building, but it’s obscured by the trees! It’s really a challenge to get the name out, for CST, and for alot of businesses I suppose.

  40. Frank J WItt says:

    Tina, the restrictions placed on different business zones also doesn’t help. Your storefront sign is determined by the sq ft of your business. Sidewalk signs which are a popular and effective way to spreadthe word about daily specials are also treated differently between B-1 and B-2 districts. B1 which I understand covers downtown is allowed to have the sidewalk signs but B2 (up here) are NOT. The city sited “traffic distractions” on why they do’nt allow it. I would think that the risk of walking around them downtown would be a bigger problem.

    But, please understant, I DO like the idea and the easy changeability of these types of signs.

    Our landlord sent the 5 of us tenants a letter asking for $3500 each for a revamp of HIS sign on the corner. Something I really don’t understand either, since he never allowed us to put anything more than “kitchenclassicsva.com” on the marquee. The $ for the sign would increase with each new renewal of our contracts, but of the companies that did pay this, NO work has begun on the sign. Also, the design of OUR sign would have to meet HIS standards.

    So much for individuality…

  41. Who do you rent from Frank?

  42. Frank J WItt says:

    Without giving his full name, we are in the Daly building and our landlord is also a valley veterinarian.

  43. JGFitzgerald says:

    About the trees at CST, allowing for windage (I got it all second-hand) and elevation (I heard it all some years back): The owner at the time the trees were planted believed the bottoms of the bolls or crowns or some damned thing on that particular type of tree would be high enough in a reasonable number of years to expose the marquee, so to speak. Either those years have not passed, or he was wrong, or his tree salesman was, or the person telling me the story was. I acknowledge that other possibilities also exist.

  44. David Miller says:

    JG, have you seen the proposals for the fate of those trees? Guess that particular downtown tree species lifespan.

  45. David Troyer says:

    I have also heard extremely unsubstantiated rumors that a couple of those trees will be coming down…

  46. JGFitzgerald says:

    My involvement with the trees was a case of blatant political irresponsibility: a constituent complained, I made inquiries, the situation continued to make progressively less sense, and I finally slunk away from the whole thing muttering darkly things like “Trees, for God’s sake, trees. Exterminate all the brutes. Burn the city to the ground.” None of that seemed wise to say out loud in the political position I held at the time, and I didn’t find out the answer to your question or, ultimately, any other.

  47. David says:

    I’m not sure anyone has that answer. I just wish they would grow a little friggin faster

  48. And I could never get rid of my sign…I know it’s dated, but my grandad put it up. It’s part of the business. And the neon even works!!

    Lord, no, don’t. Old signs are so enormously valuable to the urban landscape. I have no idea of what your sign looks like, but keep it up. :)

    It’s not but once a year that I head over to Harrisonburg (I live in Charlottesville), but when I do, it’s almost always to go downtown. It’s a small downtown, and there’s not a whole lot going on, but what is going on, I sure like. Last time I was there I had some beers with some friends on the rooftop dining section of some restaurant. The time before that I saw an Irish dance performance at a small theater and then went to this great little coffee shop. I know there are malls and the like in Harrisonburg, but ain’t no way I’m driving 45 minutes to go to some shopping mall. It’s the downtown character that draws me to visit a city, and Harrisonburg’s is certainly coming along well.

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