Residents To Revive Store for Community

By Sandhya Somashekhar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 26, 2006

When the Taylorstown General Store closed down in 1999, residents of the little hamlet of stone houses and horse farms between Lucketts and Lovettsville lost more than a convenient place to pick up a loaf of bread and a gallon of milk.

Now, a group of Taylorstown residents is planning to revive the store, keeping in mind what community members said they missed most about the 200-year-old wood-slat and concrete shop -- that it was a place to run into old friends, connect with neighbors and hear the latest local gossip.

The residents, under the auspices of a nonprofit group called Taylorstown Community Store Inc., are aiming to reopen the neighborhood haunt, restored to its former glory but with a 21st-century twist. They plan to stock the shelves with organic produce and local art, open a cafe serving soup and sandwiches, and renovate the store to the highest environmental standards, enabling it to earn the status of "green building."

"Our vision is to create a unique community gathering place that's a combination of an old-time general store and a really modern showcase of 21st-century building technology," said Tamar Datan Johnston, president of the organization's board of directors. Johnston is a consultant to nonprofit organizations and is former vice president of the Nature Conservancy.

But it won't be a simple transition. The group estimates that renovation and start-up will cost about $750,000, a hefty sum even in the affluent corner of northern Loudoun that Taylorstown occupies. The group's leaders expect to raise the money through grants and community and corporate gifts.

In addition, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality is conducting an environmental cleanup just behind the store. The previous owners of the business discovered a gas tank leak in the late 1990s, and the state agency has been extracting and purifying contaminated soil and groundwater since.

The state-funded cleanup has largely been completed but could continue for the next year or two, although an official with the agency said it is safe to reopen the business now.

The store's new owners said they will need the year or two left in the cleanup schedule to raise enough money and to execute the dramatic renovations they have in mind. Johnston and a few others formed the nonprofit group and bought the store in 2004, and they have so far raised about $150,000 through community fundraising events.

The group has already opened the store for a few community events, including summer concerts and has scheduled a Christmas craft fair.

The original store was built in the late 1700s, Johnston said, with renovations and improvements occurring over the years. It has changed hands only three times, she said, with her nonprofit group being the fourth owner. At one point in its history, it operated as a movie house, projecting films on one of its tall walls.

The store shut down after the previous owners, who earned much of their money from the gas pumps that became unusable after the leak, decided that the enterprise was no longer viable, Johnston said.

The store has two buildings, which organizers plan to connect with a glassed-in hallway. They expect to convert the main two-story building into a bakery and cafe, and the one-story adjacent building into a general store and art gallery.

Also planned is an in-house post office, said Dave Wiseman, a member of the board of directors.

"That's really in keeping with the old general store idea," he said.

The group hopes to run the store as a cooperative; residents could become part owners and collect a portion of the proceeds.

Leaders of the project also want to add environmentally friendly features that do not threaten the store's place on the National Register of Historic Places. They plan, for example, to install energy-efficient radiant heating below the old-fashioned concrete floor, Johnston said.

And they hope to preserve some of the more charming artifacts left by the previous owners, such as the antique brass cash register that sits idle in one of the buildings.

The group's vision is ambitious, but members say the effort is worthwhile. Few old-fashioned general stores remain in the county, most having been replaced by chain convenience stores. And the nearest supermarket is in Leesburg, requiring a seven-mile drive down Route 15.

"Everyone is dying to have it back open," said Tami Carlow, president of the Taylorstown Community Association, a neighborhood group. "It really held the community together. And, of course, they didn't have to drive 20 minutes to get something small."

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