New mission for Nottoway panel

Reversing a longstanding tradition, Nottoway County’s Economic Development Committee (EDC) has agreed to pursue retail businesses -- but only in collaboration with the towns of Blackstone, Burkeville, and Crewe.

The unanimous decision came Thursday night at the request of new EDC Chairman, Supervisor John Roark.

“I think retail drives the entire market,” Supervisor Roark told his colleagues and representatives of the three towns. “I don’t want to put Schwarzchild in front of Watkins Jewelers or Chick-fil-A in front of Dine-In Crewe, but I do think we need to look at changing our policy.”

Supervisor Roark said he fears the pandemic is going to hurt Nottoway’s retail sales figures and that without more sources of revenue, officials will have to continue raiding reserves or raise taxes.

District One rep Steve Bowen sought clarification from the freshman Supervisor. “I feel like the towns need to flourish. We don’t want to build a new town outside the towns. We don’t want to be competing against the towns, but maybe hunt for retail INSIDE the town limits.”

Supervisor Roark said that’s in line with his thinking. “My intent is not to seek retail and stick them out in the county...I’d like to put them in towns, which could sell them water and sewer and electricity. My goal would be to put them in town.”

Crewe Mayor Phil Miskovic said County staff could use discretion when it comes to courting retail businesses.

Assistant County Administrator John Prosise, the County’s main point of contact on economic development issues, said it would be hard for staff to pick-and-choose which retail ventures to pursue, and which to avoid.

“I’d rather for you to tell me what you need,” Prosise said, “rather than to leave it in my hands about what I think Crewe needs. I really hesitate to think that anyone at the County office should be saying what should go to Burkeville, or what should go to Crewe or Blackstone.”

Prosise added, “But we’ll do whatever you tell us to do.”

Mayor Miskovic said “a grocery store would be great” in the western end of the county.

Blackstone Mayor Billy Coleburn said retail chains look at populations and per capita incomes and make decisions based on that data. “They already know where they’re going to build their next store.” He pointed to the new Dollar General at Rts. 460 and 153, which wasn’t part of any County initiative.

Coleburn said the EDC’s main mission should be to continue to attract major employers and that if those efforts are successful, new businesses will follow.

Crewe Town Manager Brian Thrower agreed, saying national chains “already know where they’re going.” He suggested that if the County gets calls from prospective retail firms, those calls be referred to the three towns.

Supervisor Roark asked what harm would be caused by lifting the long-time ban on actively seeking retail.

Prosise responded, “If you go out here and announce that the EDC is going to seek retail, you’re going to have everybody who has a retail business in this county come after us. They’re all gonna be frightened.”

Mayor Coleburn, a nonvoting member of the EDC, said Crewe already has a “great grocery store” in the form of A&J Produce. And he said that if Schwarzchild were to locate in Blackstone, Watkins Jewelers would knock them out of business -- not vice-versa.

Supervisor Bowen moved to seek retail but only in collaboration with the three towns. Miskovic seconded, and the motion carried with all five Supervisors and Town voting members supporting it.

Prosise reminded the gathering that the County several years ago hired a broker to market Piedmont Park, a 17-acre tract near Burkeville that the County has owned for nearly 20 years. Prosise said the County had hoped to secure an anchor store for that site, which in turn would attract other ventures. “We didn’t have any luck. But the County hasn’t been sitting on its hands.”

Supervisor Bowen agreed, recalling the difficult balancing act of seeking new businesses without harming long-time employers and taxpayers. “We were trying to develop Piedmont Park, and constituents wanted to see a Food Lion, but that could have put Burkeville Market out of business. It puts you in an awkward situation.”

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