Quaint Va. town wins ‘Great American Main Street’

Hank Silverberg, wtop.com

CULPEPER, Va. – Its renaissance approach to revitalization and old, small-town feel has earned Culpeper, Va. the prestigious 2012 “Great American Main Street” award.

Culpeper Mayor Chip Coleman often holds court in a chair in front of Raven’s Coffee Shop on Davis Street, and waves to just about everyone who passes by. He says the town’s revitalization over the last ten years has been a team effort between the town government and a non profit organization, Culpeper Renaissance Inc.

“It’s been community leaders pulling together in a non-profit to make it work, and then the utilizing of tax credits,” says Coleman.

Two full blocks of Davis Street and the part of Main Street that intersects is home to new, trendy stores mixed with old businesses such as Clarke Hardware. Many of the facades have been restored and most the retail establishments include second floors that have been converted into apartments where rents go from $800 to $1,000 per month.

The catalyst was the renovation of the Train Depot, a stop along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor route.

Inside Raven’s, Linda Corbin, who works there, says fixing the depot at the bottom of Davis Street shook the town up.

“Before on this end of town, you wouldn’t even be caught coming down here,” she says.

People frequently get off the train from New York or Charlottesville to spend a few days in Culpeper, she says.

Parking downtown is still free here but the mayor says they may soon have to put up a parking garage to handle the overflow.

Culpeper, which has 16,400 residents, suffered a bit of a set-back from last summer’s 5.8 earthquake when several businesses were damaged. One old building had to be torn down and several others reinforced.

The town is now attracting many tourists. At Frost Cafe, which looks very much like a 1950s diner, the brunch hour was crowded on Sunday.

Customers can still get a good breakfast there for about $5.00

Joe Gilliard, who has lived in the town since 2004 and has just bought his second house in Culpeper, says he doesn’t come downtown that much, but that may now change. He wanted to give his son the experience of eating in an old style diner.

“Any time your town gets recognition its probably a good thing,” he says.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, which gives out the Great American Streets award, says Culpeper demonstrates what can be done with a long term commitment to historic preservation and broad-based support.

Four other communities also received awards this year: Bath, Maine; Jacksonville, Ill.; Washington, Mo. and Valley Junction/West Des Moines, Iowa.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)