The northward march: entrepreneurs expanding Harrisonburg’s downtown scene

The Frame Factory, which opened its current location in 2016, was one of the harbingers of entrepreneurs who are revitalizing the north end of downtown Harrisonburg.

By Kyle Kirby, contributor

The northern end of downtown Harrisonburg is abuzz with renovations, as more and more restaurants and businesses set up shop just north of Court Square. The Frame Factory established its Liberty Street location in 2016, and their neighbor Mashita, the local Korean food truck favorite, cut the ribbon on a brick-and-mortar restaurant in October. And as WHSV first reported, the white monolith with the triangle-shaped footprint, formerly known as Big L Tire, will soon have a new lease – on life, and on paper.

The former Big L Tire property is currently being converted into a number of restaurant, beverage, and co-working spaces.

The current owner, Bismark LLC, is leasing the building to local entrepreneur Kirsten Moore. Moore, the current owner-operator of The Hub co-working space on Bruce Street, plans to open a diner, coffee roaster, bakery, and co-working space.

The owners of Chestnut Ridge Coffee Roasters, Jose Thompson and David Frazier, are excited to be part of the Big L redevelopment. They currently operate out of the old Spangler building on Old South High Street. If all goes according to plan, their roasting process will be a visible attraction through a large storefront window in the new location, not to mention the delicious coffee aroma they anticipate will fill the sidewalk outside it. Chestnut Ridge was established in the spring of 2019, about the same time that new-born daughters came into the lives of both Frazier and Thompson.

Advising others who want to start their own business, Frazier said, “Be persistent, don’t get frustrated, and be prepared to jump through hoops.” 

Across the street, Bismarck LLC has leased part of the old garages to Zach Carlson, who plans to open Sage Bird Ciderworks there. The Harrisonburg City Council approved a special use permit for the property last July, allowing Carlson to run the hard cider manufacturing operation, which will include a tasting room and use locally grown apples.

These entrepreneurs are part of a larger growth trend in Harrisonburg. Dana Harshberger, owner of The Frame Factory, has eagerly watched this growth.

“I hope to build awareness of what’s on North Liberty. There are some longtime existing businesses – Shen Valley Band Instruments, Union Station, L&S Diner, for example – that people seem to look over,” Harshberger said. “Joining them on Liberty, and the recent addition of Mashita, will help get foot traffic to consider walking over from Main Street.” 

As the former owner of Taste Catering and current owner of The Hub, Moore is no stranger to starting new businesses. She said that much of co-working is about hospitality, so redeveloping the Big L building with both co-working and food-based enterprises feels complementary. The diner will be a breakfast-and-lunch operation called Magpie, and will feature bread from the bakery next door, as well as coffee from the in-house Chestnut Ridge Coffee Roasters. The co-working space will be a relocation of The Hub, dubbed The Perch at Magpie. The businesses are all connected via stairs and hallways. 

Moore said she sees the redevelopment as “an opportunity to create a space where people can connect … the businesses enhance each other. One of our core values is that connecting over a plate of food is more important than anything we could put on it. Nothing fancy. Cleaner, lighter, a comfortable place where everyone is happy and nourished in all kinds of ways.”

Construction on the Big L Building has been fervent, and the businesses involved hope to open in April.

Andrea Dono, executive director of the Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, said that the northward growth of downtown businesses is a result of the last 16 years of revitalization and redevelopment initiatives. 

“The vibrancy in the main section of downtown has been generating more interest among more businesses and residents who want to be downtown,” Dono explained. “This demand motivates property owners and investors to create a new supply of spaces for them in the areas adjacent to the core of downtown. Since downtown is thriving in a lot of ways today that it wasn’t years ago, there is more confidence among developers and businesses.”

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