If the town sees opportunity in its empty downtown storefronts, then the entire town is full of opportunity. With a number of prominent commercial properties vacant or on the market, Rocky Mount’s quaint downtown is poised for transformation.

The longtime home of J&J Fashions has been empty since the owner of the women’s clothing store moved all operations to its Roanoke County location in 2018.

Two adjacent Franklin Street buildings, which together total more than 15,000 square feet, have been listed with Cushman & Wakefield | Thalhimer. One is vacant, while part of the other is used by Basket Creations & More.

A former furniture store at the corner of Franklin Street and Claiborne Avenue that was at one time pitched as a hotel and restaurant remains vacant. Although a special-use permit that would allow the project to move forward was approved by the town council, paper still covers the windows of the corner building.

Nearby, the Grainery building, a former art venue recognizable by its mural reminiscent of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” remains empty. Sold in 2018, the new owners have not yet made their plans for the property public. Since the space was designed for art, it might be nice to see a gallery go in there or perhaps a space for local artisans and jewelers to set up and sell their artwork.

And there’s more opportunity in other parts of town, too.

The plaza where the town’s only movie theater is located has lots of potential as do storefronts farther up Virginia 40 in Kroger plaza. We are fortunate that Peebles is only closing to change its brand to Gordman’s with plans to open in late March.

Matt Hankins, the assistant town manager, recently said he believes some of the business turnover can be attributed to the fact that the Harvester Performance Center has made downtown commercial space more valuable. While we don’t have the annual report on the Harvester just yet, last year things were looking up for the music venue, and many local business owners have said they can see the positive impact it has had.

With the Summit View Business Park attracting manufacturing and corporate business, it would be nice for the town to capitalize on the opportunity to bring those folks in with fresh retail stores and restaurants. And why not take advantage of the housing shortage and add apartments downtown, too, adding to the economic boom?

After all, the town invested in a new speaker system to pipe in music for pedestrians to enjoy while they visit local stores. Everyone has their favorite chain restaurants and stores they would love to see in town, and there are plenty of places to make that happen, especially in Rocky Mount. The opportunity is ripe to saturate downtown with local boutiques and eateries. However, the higher building values may be harder or take longer for business owners to see a return on their investments.

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